Who wouldn’t want to look better and feel healthier?  This is true no matter what decade of life you are in.  The good news is this: there are things you can do now to improve the way you age at a cellular level
 
In 2009, three molecular biologists – Elisabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak – won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their research into telomeres and their effects on aging.  Telomeres are the caps on our strands of DNA.  Think of them like the protective tip on a shoelace; without the tip, the shoelace ravels and becomes unusable.  This is similar to our DNA.  If protected by long telomeres, the cell can easily divide and renew the tissues that depend on it.  As telomeres shorten, the cell loses its ability to divide and dies.
 
In the book, The Telomere Effect:  A Younger, Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, Blackburn, and co-author Elissa Epel, PhD, provide these tips to keep your telomeres thriving:
 
Telomeres Love Fish
They especially love fish that contains Omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and tuna.  In fact, they thrive on any Omega-3 foods: walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed, and soy.  Foods associated with shorter telomere length include sugar, saturated fat, processed meats, white bread, pastries, and excess alcohol.
 
Telomeres Don’t Care What You Weigh
More than a number on a scale, telomeres care about your metabolic health—how well you control blood sugar levels.  This is true whether or not you are diabetic.  On the other hand, yo-yo dieting (losing the same 20 pounds or so over and over ) puts telomeres into a tailspin.
 
Telomeres Favor a Couple Forms of Exercise
Two forms of aerobic exercise are especially popular with telomeres:
 
  1. Moderate exercise like light jogging or fast walking, done 3 times a week for 45 minutes each
  2. High-intensity interval training, with a 10-minute warm-up, 4 intervals of fast and easy running (or brisk walking), and a 10-minute cooldown
 
Although the current research hasn’t linked strength training to telomere length, strength training is still vitally important for revving metabolism and maximizing bone health – especially as we get older.
 
Telomeres Crave Sleep
Telomeres respond best to a full night’s sleep, at least 7 hours, allowing your body to complete its four required sleep stages.  Short-changing yourself on sleep prevents your cells from replenishing as they should.  Likewise, you can’t make up for lack of weekday sleep by sleeping in on weekends.
 
Telomeres Know When You are Stressed Out
Anxiety, depression, pessimism, chronic stress and hostility have all been linked to the depletion of telomeres.  This can be undone, however, through meditation and mind-body practices like yoga or tai-chi and by reframing stress as a positive.
  
The top takeaway is this:  lifestyle choices — including nutrition, movement, sleep and stress management – impact how you age at a cellular level.  It’s never too late to improve this picture.
About the Author 
Sally Duplantier is the founder of Zing, a company that helps people improve their Healthspan—the number of years in which they are healthy, active and mentally sharp. She has a certificate in Nutrition Science from Stanford Medical School and is studying the science of aging at USC, where she is working on a Masters in Gerontology.

Have you ever contemplated getting studio Pilates equipment for your home workouts?

What if I told you that you may already own something that lends itself wonderfully to Pilates work? This month I’ll share with you a Pilates workout that I designed to be performed on…an Ottoman!

Perhaps you don’t have the money or inclination to purchase big Pilates equipment for home use. Well I’ve discovered to my delight that my padded ottoman is the perfect surface for so many Pilates exercises. Here’s a way to do some Aging Strong Pilates® in the comfort of your home and notch up the level.

The video below is my personal quick and dirty ~15 min workout that I do in my bedroom before or after a shower about 2-3x a week. I do it in my underwear for maximum skin to leather traction so I have good grip and don’t slide. Some of the exercises are extremely challenging so proceed with caution. They are safe but difficult, so listen to your body and proceed at a level and pace that matches where you are today.

At the end of this blog post I’ve included a full written list of the exercises so you can print it and repeat on your own with your choice of music.

Note: Your ottoman should not be on wheels or have a base that swivels.

My ottoman has a slope to it. Depending on the direction your lying on it, the slope can make a particular exercise easier or harder. If your ottoman is sloped, try and drape yourself on it in the same angle I do in the video. I demonstrate the exercises at the angle that facilitates each movement.

For example, for the beginning chest lift core series I’m positioned on my back with my buttocks on the low edge and the lower tips of my shoulder blades at the top of the slope. This is the easier orientation but you’ll see quickly that it is by no means “easy”. If your ottoman is level, that’s fine as long as it has nice padded edges so it doesn’t dig into you. If you choose not to do it in your underwear then add a shelf liner to the surface so you don’t slide.

This workout includes all ranges of motion, Flexion (just from Extension (back bending) to Neutral (straight line) so it’s safe for conditions where flexion is contraindicated) Rotation, Side Bending, and Extension. I incorporate wonderful stretches after working the muscles in all these planes of motion.

I have to admit this is one of my favorite routines. It’s a Bad A_ _ Core workout that energizes me and makes we feel worked in a short amount of time!

The planks are extremely challenging but if you have stiff feet or bunions that make it difficult to curl your toes under for planks on the floor, having your feet elevated makes that part actually easier since you don’t have to tuck your toes under. Remember, the more leg you have on the ottoman, the easier it will be, so position yourself wisely.

 

The two sections that I do face down (opposite arm and leg reach, swimming and swan) are great for strengthening the muscles that strengthen the hips and support good posture. Firing those upper back muscles has the added benefit of stimulating bone growth in the spine.

 

Here’s a full list of the exercises so you can repeat them on your own with your favorite music. Note that as you see in the video – you don’t have to do a lot of repetitions to make it count. If you want to get feedback from me on your technique, purchase a 30 minute online Skype session and I’ll ensure you’re moving safely and effectively!

Go slowly. Be Precise. Breathe. Have fun!

Ottoman Pilates Exercise List

On your Back (face up)

  • Big X Stretch
  • Chest Lift Series
    • Center
    • Oblique twisting toward the lifted tabletop leg
    • Advanced: knees lift, lift, lower, lower, alternating lead leg
  • Finish with Big X Stretch to lengthen the abdominals

On Your Belly

  • Opposite Arm leg reach (ottoman under pelvis and belly)
  • Swimming
  • Final extension hands interlaced reaching toward feet-rotating head as you breathe w/ease
  • Child’s pose/Rest position (knees open wide if you have osteoporosis or herniated discs)

Side Lying

  • Leg lifts (bottom foot on floor, top leg lifts and lowers) Waist positioned at middle of ottoman
  • Side Kick top leg, keep hips stacked vertically.    Shift body so hips at middle of ottoman
  • Hover body parallel to floor and hold (head in line with spine)
  • Top leg lifts and lowers
  • Side-Lying Stretch (shift yourself so it’s comfortable for you, grab top wrist with bottom hand)

Repeat above on the other side

Face Down

  • Planks (first with lower thigh and shin on ottoman) Hold position
  • Add pushups if desired
  • Walk further out so less leg on the ottoman-increased challenge
  • Side Plank (one on each side-move slowly and hold/breathe)

Face Down

  • Swan (begin with breasts/chest hanging over the front edge, hands on the floor, feet on floor against base of the wall) Activate core and legs then Inhale as  you rise, Exhale as you lower
  • Child pose/rest position

 

 

Imagine a studio in 2004 at the El Camino YMCA filled with tiny dancers wiggling joyously as their hair bounces wildly to the beat of the music. With smiles beaming on their six-year-old faces, they giggle while holding hands and twirling in circles. To the side is another beautiful, highly active child. This child is different. She has yet to learn how to talk, loud sounds make her prone to outbursts, and rather than controlled little arms, they often flail, accidentally hitting some of the other children. Integrating this precious child is a challenge, for in the eyes of the others, she is not like them. But as the weeks progress, the children begin to see her as one of their own, one to protect and love. The child’s mom looked on and wished all children like hers could have an experience like this—an experience where they feel cared for, accepted, and free. Oh, the beauty of childhood innocence when looking beyond the visual and embracing not just the person, but the soul.

Today there is a space where young and old alike gather to experience the same joy of movement to music with no judgment, no criticism, and no fear. All levels learn at their own pace and are given the freedom to express themselves with no preconceived idea for perfection. This all-inclusive setting has parents dancing with their child with special needs alongside those labeled “normal.” All feel welcomed, included, and safe. This is pure magic—this is Dance for All.

In 2014, Teresa Maldonado Marchok and Mercy Forde, both fitness instructors, teamed up to create this delightful program. As fitness enthusiasts, they know firsthand how important physical activity is for everybody, no matter what age. As mothers to special needs children, they found it difficult to find classes for their children that were not separate from the community because of their challenges. Their children, just like all children, brimming with equal capability. All they needed was an opportunity to participate. And so, Dance for All was born.

The dance class is run similar to other fitness classes, with Teresa and Mercy demonstrating and instructing a variety of movements and techniques that develop and improve core strength, flexibility, and balance. Students not only learn current dance moves in rhythm with the latest music, but there’s also Pilates mat work, and a closing meditation that allows all to center themselves before leaving the studio. Participants are not only welcome but encouraged to interpret the moves as the music flows. Though they might not all be synchronized, they are all united in spirit and fun.

The program’s mission is “Connecting the Community through Movement,” and this inclusive class allows the unique twofold beauty of the program to shine. First, Dance for All gives the special needs participant the tools to conduct themselves in a movement class, thus enabling integration into other classes as well as a sense of belonging to society as a whole. Second, the class creates a fun environment for the typical fitness participant to learn more about and interact with this precious sub-set. Despite initial perceived differences in thought process and language, the typical student begins to see that each member of the class has dreams and desires, just like anyone.

Dance for All is celebrating its fifth anniversary. What started as a dream has morphed into a beautiful weekly event and a studio packed with participants. Whether dancers come alone or with their children, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Margie Pfister, who attends class with her adult daughter Ellen, summed up their experience, which many can relate to.   “Amidst the ups and downs of our days, Dance for All has been a positive welcoming spot from the moment we entered the class and are greeted by name.

Through the warm-ups, dance, and cool-down, my daughter and I are inspired to be our best as we encourage others to do as well. With the positive music, and Teresa’s and Mercy’s kind encouragement, we not only feel a sense of belonging, but our posture has improved in our daily activities. By the end of class, we feel a sense of accomplishment, have met new friends, and this world feels like a better place, and we feel better in it.”


As for that bright-eyed child in that dance class so long ago, she is Teresa’s twenty-year-old daughter, Katelyn, and I was privileged to be her dance teacher. Today, she takes all kinds of classes at the YMCA and is a joy to watch as her face still beams while dancing. How fortunate is our community to embrace such a program where students come together as equals and friends. Just as Margie said, this experience makes the world feel like a better place, and all feel better in it.

 

If you want to participate in a joyful experience, come check out Dance for All every Saturday from 1:00-2:00 pm at the El Camino YMCA/ 2400 Grant Road, Mt. View. Ages 8-88 gather in the multipurpose room and unite to elevate awareness, promote community acceptance and just have fun.

 

 

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Written by Jackie Madden Haugh

Critically acclaimed published author, former columnist for The Los Altos Town Crier,  realtor, dance instructor, devoted mom and grandma…and a dear friend.

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________

 

 

Written by Jackie Madden Haugh

 

Critically acclaimed published author, former columnist for

The Los Altos Town Crier, realtor, dance instructor, devoted mom and grandma…and a dear friend.

Do you know someone who seems to have 80 hobbies and are always looking for the next one? Maybe you’ve thought, “They must just have too much time on their hands.”  The truth is, they probably work hard at making time for hobbies. Learning a new skill offers a slew of mental, physical and social benefits for people in all walks of life. 

Whether you’re in school, in the middle of your career, living in your golden years, recovering from substance abuse or anywhere in between, finding a good hobby can keep you healthy and enjoying life. Here are five mentally engaging hobbies that can be learned online or with a group of friends.

Learn an instrument

One skill that is good for the mind and helps people express their thoughts and feelings is playing a musical instrument. It can also increase your capacity for memory, strengthen your dexterity and coordination, lift your mood, and boost your self-confidence. Furthermore, developing musical comprehension can improve your communication skills, and playing in a group can strengthen your interpersonal skills. A lot goes into choosing the right instrument, so do your research and pick one that interests you and fits your personality. 

Read

Besides the entertainment aspects, reading is beneficial for people of all ages. Along with being a critical part of child development, reading a variety of topics and genres is an effective way of gaining general knowledge and expanding your vocabulary. It has also been proven to reduce stress and improve cognitive function by boosting memory, concentration and focus, as well as strengthening analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. Reading a traditional book promotes healthy sleep. For those who are interested in writing, reading also helps you become a better writer. 

Write

Similar to reading, writing is beneficial for any age, whether it’s done traditionally or digitally. It engages and stimulates your brain, sharpens your focus and provides an outlet for creatively expressing unresolved thoughts and feelings. Writing can even slow down the aging process, calm the nerves, and ease anxiety and depression symptoms. Additionally, there is a plethora of different forms and subjects to write about, so there’s something for everyone. If you’re looking for a good excuse to unplug from our tech-driven world, opt for writing some of your material by hand

Dance

If you’re looking for a hobby that’s more kinetic in nature, dance may be the one for you. Some of the many benefits include improved mood, positive self-image, increased energy and more neural connections, a big plus as we age! 

There are many ways to increase your skill in dance, whether by taking a class or just dancing to music in your living room. For the former, active agers may have access to dance classes if they’re signed up for a qualifying Medicare Advantage plan. SilverSneakers, a program specializing in senior-focused fitness activities, is included in many Medicare Advantage plans offered by health insurance companies like Humana. Your local YMCA is a valuable resource for Zumba and other movement-oriented activities. The Y offers programs for people of all ages and abilities and always has something fun for those ready to take up a new fitness-focused hobby. 

Volunteer

While volunteering is a great way for retirees to stay physically, mentally and socially active, it has just as many benefits for people in other age groups. Volunteering at a nonprofit (e.g., food pantry, animal shelter, church, museum, etc.) is a great opportunity to step out of the stresses of your personal life and help others. It can also be a base for socializing and building new friendships, enhancing school and college experience, providing better job opportunities, and reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s while helping you age gracefully.  

Keeping your mind engaged is not only helpful, but it’s also essential for anyone who wants to live a long and healthy life. Reading, writing, playing an instrument, dancing and volunteering are all mentally challenging activities that are worth trying, no matter your age or life circumstances. Whether you opt for local classes or go online for free tutorials, find a hobby to make a lasting difference in your quality of life.

Photo Credit: Unsplash  

Cheryl Conklin

www.wellnesscentral.info

We’ve known about the perils of tech neck and texting thumb. Now we have budding phone horns?

Our mobile devices can seem like a godsend-until they wreak havoc on our necks and backs. There’s been a recent buzz about the research out of Australia. It shows that there are bony horn-like protuberances growing at the base of our youth’s skulls as a direct result of the forces on the neck from Tech neck, that extreme forward bent position of the neck while using one’s phone.  Whether or not the research on the “phone horns” will be replicated and further validated, that forward flexed posture should be of concern to all of us long term for the impact on our spine, especially as we age.  You can read the full article here.

Bony phone horn protuberances seen in the Australian research

Bad posture can lead to early joint wear and tear and possible future surgeries.  According to research done by Dr. Hansraj chief of spine surgery at NY Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine, looking at a phone at a 60-degree angle is about the same as applying 60 lbs of force to your spine.  That’s roughly the weight of an 8 y/o child. It’s easy to see in the illustration below how the more forward bent the head is, the greater the forces and stress on the spine.

You can circumvent these problems with a little adjustment to your posture when holding your devices!

The following videos I’ve created, demonstrate practical strategies to hold your mobile phone/iPad efficiently in various positions:

  1. Standing

2. Sitting

3. Lying in bed reading (research shows that the blue light emitted from using a mobile device at night in bed interferes with melatonin production and sleep quality but if you choose to do so, please follow my postural guidelines)

I’d love to hear in the comments section if these tips help you, your kids or grandkids.

We all have our postural faults, especially if we lose focus. Mine is rib flaring, that tendency to jut the bottom ribs forward in a faulty attempt to open the chest or lengthen the body. This often results in excess back tension and pain.

With mindfulness and an awareness of this tendency, I can better control this common error and so can you!

The secret is, no surprise, “connection”.  I like to use the image of 2 vertical bungee cords connecting my front bottom ribs with my pelvis.  Watch the video to test if you’re a rib flarer and learn 2 exercises to help fix it.

For those of you nowhere near me or former clients that have relocated, there is a viable way to create or keep our connection through Pilates!

I’ve been using Skype to reach my clients when they’re on vacation as well as to work with new clients. I particularly enjoy working with users of my BoneSmart Pilates® DVD’s who want some encouragement or personal feedback on their form and technique.

Virtual Skype Pilates means that you can literally do Pilates whenever and wherever you like, while having a qualified instructor like myself, guiding you through your workout, demonstrating as needed, and checking to make sure you’re moving correctly and not risking injury.  You’ll quickly realize that the 2-way conversation is far superior than watching a video. We have an open dialogue and a few laughs in the process. It’s like having a coach and workout buddy in one!  

In addition, you’re not wasting your time searching for just the right workout only to find in the middle of the workout, that it’s the wrong level for you.  You might discover midway that you really don’t like the instructor and there’s no modifications offered for your sore back, shoulder, knee or wrist. You may find that many of the exercises are too easy or too difficult. Having me there to give you feedback live through Skype is a game changer and mitigates all those issues I just mentioned.  As a physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor for the last 20+yrs, I can modify or change the workout to meet your mood, desires, fitness level and health status.  

Still on the fence?  As a summer incentive – I’m offering 15% off for Skype sessions purchased through June 15, 2019. (sessions purchased in this time frame can be used after that date)  Enter code “SKY” at checkout.”

In my 2 decades of running my business I have discounted my products but have never discounted my coaching time.  This is a one time golden opportunity.


You can do this in 3 Easy Steps:

1) Purchase either one or maximum two 30 min sessions at this discount. Each online coaching session is either 30 min or combine two 30 min sessions for an hour long appt. 

2) Schedule your appt. via email with Teresa to secure a mutually convenient time.

3) Download the Skype application to your computer if it’s not there already then at the time of your session – make sure you’re logged in to Skype, grab your mat, have your questions (if any) ready and let’s do it!

So if you don’t know, know you know”!   (from my beloved Broadway show “Hamilton”)

I hope to see you in the SKY(pe)

Age happens, regardless of the physical standards you achieved in your youth. Perhaps you were involved in high school or college sports, part of an organized community team, maybe an elite athlete and in great shape. Perhaps you’re still pushing hard but the reality of an aging body that doesn’t rebound as quickly as before, stares you in the face.

We are part of a generation that realizes that we have control of certain aspects of aging and that inactivity plays a huge role in how we feel. Dr. DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon in Philadelphia, notes that “We have doubled our life expectancy in the last 100 years, but our frames are not designed to last that long. There’s a mismatch between longevity and durability. It becomes a matter of how do you extend the warranty on your frame.”

In 1998, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964- sustained more than 1 million sports injuries, leading to nearly $19 billion in medical costs. Exercise and sports in our best and final act, becomes a dance of injury management where party conversations are peppered with tales of back pain, rotator cuff problems, herniated discs and anything ending in an “itis”. 

The upside of age includes being comfortable in our skin, gaining insight, wisdom, and fostering lasting relationships. In the physical realm, certain things, whether we like it or not, are diminished with age including muscle strength, bone health, balance and flexibility.  Old sports injuries frequently rear their heads as problems later in life, especially arthritis.

Understanding what to do, what to avoid and how to pace ourselves, is essential for remaining strong and healthy over time.

I’m a former professional dancer who pushed my body beyond its limits for decades. Contrary to the image of ease and invincibility presented on stage, dancers, or as Martha Graham used to call us, “Athletes of God”, spent many a night post performance nursing painful body parts with ice packs in hotels around the world. 

As an aging athlete, I’ve had to navigate acute and chronic injuries including rotator cuff rupture and low back disc herniations. In order to continue to do what I love, I’ve learned how to modify movements in Pilates, dance and Bikram yoga, as well as during activities of daily living to spare my spine.

In Bikram yoga, participants tackle the standing head to knee pose which involves holding one leg straight in front of you parallel to the ground with a deeply rounded spine, a difficult task (and one that should be avoided for anyone with low bone density or herniations). I stand instead like a stork with one knee bent in the air, my spine long and vertical. This avoids further debilitation of my spinal discs while still benefitting from single leg weight-bearing balance. 

In that same class, participants perform transitional straight leg sit ups between mat exercises where they explosively round up and do a “double jerk, double exhale” percussive ballistic forward flexed bounce. I’ve modified this instead into a log roll to my side to safely transition to the next exercise.  Medical wisdom now directs us to ditch crunches and straight leg sit ups and choose other, smarter spine sparing techniques, which I’ll share shortly.

I think we all want to keep our bodies as safe, strong and mobile as they can be for as long as possible. How do we work around aging and injuries? 

When I had rotator cuff surgery 3 years ago, I used Pilates to continue to train the rest of my body while avoiding the injured shoulder.  I worked on core and leg strength, flexibility and balance. The beauty of the spring assisted Pilates environment is that it is so modifiable. It’s easy to accommodate for injuries and work around your limitations safely so you can remain fit.  In the following video, I’m one-week post rotator cuff surgery and you can see how I’m able to still get a decent workout despite my arm being in a sling. 

Get Smarter About Exercise

My belief is that we need to physically train to get older. Getting older is not for sissies. We need to get smarter about exercise.  What does smart exercise look like? 

Disregard that old adage of No Pain No Gain.  It’s important to heed the warning signs of any injury. Pain is your body’s signal to back off and give yourself time to recover.  Don’t push through those pain signals or you’ll slip into a continuing loop of pain and inflammation.

Warm up before you exercise and allow more recuperation and stretching time after exercise.

Train smarter not harder which means not overdoing it.  Tom Brady, the aging Patriots winning quarterback has a workout regimen that is 90% focused on resistance bands, not heaving heavy weights.  If you’re planning an intensive golf weekend, practice some swings and controlled spine rotations and ensure good mobility leading up to it. Don’t walk in cold. 

Form and alignment is critical not only with exercise but also with your activities of daily living like how you pick things up off the floor or how you hoist your carry-on luggage into the overhead compartment of a plane. All the little things that you do on a daily basis add up, and if you’re doing them wrong, you’ll experience cumulative insidious injury – the math will work against you.

If you’re like most people, you might have a chronic injury or are dealing with vulnerabilities that put you at increased risk of an injury.  I’ll cover just a few of the common areas where we should demonstrate more caution and care.

Feet/Ankles/Calves

Common conditions I see as a PT working with aging athletes include plantar fasciitis, stiff feet/ankles, and tight cramping calves.

Our feet are what support us and get us from point A to point B.  We need mobile, strong and malleable feet to support a strong and stable body. What do most of us do with our feet during the day? We provide sensory deprivation as we shove them into ill-fitting or stiff shoes that prevent intrinsic movement of the feet. Instead of functional feet, many of us have clubs at the end of our ankles. The feet have the highest percentage of proprioceptors in our body, telling our brain where our body is in space.  If those proprioceptors signals are muffled and under stimulated it creates balance issues and a tendency to lose our footing. 

Tips for Feet: Walk barefoot, use full tennis balls or any of those nubby textured foot mobilizers to massage the different areas of your feet, increasing flexibility and improving healing blood flow and circulation.  Use ½ tennis balls for a gentler safer alternative that won’t roll away. Use resistance bands around the sole of the foot, holding the ends like reins as you slowly point and flex the ankle, strengthening all those underused small foot muscles.

For cramping calves check with your medical professional to see if you have a potassium or magnesium deficiency and supplement accordingly.  Also make sure you’re drinking enough water. Lack of adequate hydration often leads to leg cramps.

Finally be sure to stretch both regions of your calf muscles. Stand at the edge of a step with one heel lowered. The gastrocnemius (the meaty calf muscle that is more superficial and visible) is addressed when the stretching leg has the knee straight.  To stretch the deeper soleus calf muscle, you must bend that knee slightly while stretching the calf.

Knees
Painful knees are often the byproduct of weak leg muscles, tight calf and leg muscles as well as faulty alignment when you bend your knees.

What to do? 

Check your mobility-can you touch your toes with your knees just slightly unlocked?

Can you put the ball of your foot on a step and lower your heel down below the step with ease?   Can you pull your foot behind you to your bottom for a quad stretch with good alignment or do you stick your bottom out behind you when you try this? 

Some of the key remedies for avoiding knee pain include ensuring you’re tracking your knees over the center of your foot every time you bend your knees. Since bending your knees is something you do every time you get up and down from a chair, toilet, car seat etc. it’s imperative that it’s performed with ideal alignment each and every time. This will prevent potential torqueing of the knee.

In addition, strengthening the muscles that attach to the knee is essential as the stronger your leg muscles are, the more they will support and decompress the knee joint.  Include closed chain exercises that incorporate the hamstrings (back of your legs), the quadriceps (front of thighs) and the calves. This is particularly helpful if you’re suffering from pain or arthritis stemming from previous injuries.

One good example is wall sits: stand against a wall with your feet about 6-12in from the wall. Then bend your knees to a point that’s painfree (up to a 90 degree angle) keeping the back of your pelvis, upper back and head in contact with the wall. Hold that position for 30 sec’s slowly increasing the duration over time and varying the degree of knee bend.

If your pain is due to old injuries, notice what movements or activities trigger your pain and try and remove or minimize those triggers.

With aging athletes, studies point to targeting power to improve strength. So, for example rising from a chair explosively (without locking your knees) then slowly lowering your bottom to a hover over the chair and repeating that with good form will create gains.

Be sure you’re stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps and calves on a daily basis to keep them healthy and mobile. This will help mitigate knee problems.

Back Pain

Intermittent or chronic back pain is a common complaint for many aging athletes particularly dancers, gymnasts and other athletes where they are asked to move their spines in ranges that were not intended for the spine.  Keep in mind that the spine is designed for stability with the hips and shoulders created for mobility.

Most people in their lifetime will experience some type of back pain typically caused by injury or degeneration.

Examine what you’re doing on a daily basis and how it might be affecting your spine. 

Are you sitting excessively? This will shorten the muscles that cross the hips affecting the spine.  Do you find yourself commonly in a slumped posture?  This will compress your discs and may cause nerve compression resulting in numbness and tingling down the legs.

Might you have an undiagnosed spine fracture? Be sure to get a bone density (DXA scan) if you’re over 65 and notice any of the red flags like a loss in height greater than 2 inches, being a female with a small frame or if your mom had osteoporosis. Some modifiable risk factors include smoking, drinking excessively and inactivity.

Are you still doing crunches? Dr. Stuart McGill, a Canadian PT, researcher, and world-renowned spine expert recommends avoiding crunches due to the excessive loads placed on the discs and ligaments of the spine during movements involving loaded spine flexion. His book “Back Mechanic: The secrets to a healthy spine your doctor isn’t telling you”, is a practical easy to understand resource for how to find your pain triggers and clear steps to help you improve.  Keep in mind also that if you have low bone density crunches can predispose you to spine fractures and if you have spinal disc compromise, sit-ups and crunches can lead to disc herniations.

Healthy alternative? Instead choose core exercises that keep the spine in a neutral position like planks including forearm, straight arm and side planks. 

Remember to use the spine sparing technique of hip hinging where you fold at your hips, for any lifting or bending to avoid rounding your back. Doing your daily activities including exercising with a neutral-stable spine will spare your back. 

Keeping an injury-free edge as we exercise in middle age

Be willing to modify and accommodate for your body.  If you’re asked to do lunges in a class done barefoot and your metatarsal (toe area) joints just don’t bend that way due to arthritis or surgery, put on your tennis shoes or supportive shoe wear to provide the support needed to accomplish this excellent exercise.

Mindfully improve mobility with flexibility exercises while maintaining good alignment. Give Pilates or Yoga a try.

Cross train to give your body a break from repetitive motions.

Strengthen your core muscles including your abdominals, back, pelvic floor and diaphragm, to support your spine.

Work on your dynamic balance, not just standing still on 1 leg. Most people don’t trip and fall while standing like a stork. Try this exercise to challenge your dynamic balance.

Ignore the mantra “No Pain, No Gain” and replace that with “Feel Pain, Be Sane”

Get enough restorative sleep and pay attention to nutrition.

Prioritize alignment and form during exercise as well as during daily activities.

Warm up thoroughly before your chosen activity.  I’ve noticed that it takes me much longer than before to warm up sufficiently enough to prevent injury before physical endeavors.

Post-exercise static stretching is a useful tool for promoting relaxation (by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity which controls rest and digestion) and improving flexibility (by causing changes to the mechanical properties of the muscle-tendon unit.)  Research shows minimal effect on reduction of muscle soreness 1-7 days post exercise.

Don’t underestimate the benefit of regular massage to relax muscle tissue. It may also help with reducing pain and improving function.

Work around your injury. If you’ve injured a particular body part, say your foot, don’t ignore the rest of your body. Find ways to incorporate core training and other exercises that work your heart and uninjured areas. It will not only help your body but also your mind and spirit.

If you have low bone density, be sure you’re including weight bearing resistance and impact exercise. Avoid forward bending (flexion) of your spine as that can increase your risk of fracture.

Foam rollers are a popular and effective tool for the aging athlete.  They work with your weight and are easily used on most parts of the body. In addition to massaging tight muscles, rollers can help with myofascial pain by compressing trigger points. They can also improve hydration in your fascia, the connective tissue that acts as a saran wrap around your muscles and organs.  If your fascia develops adhesions, where disorganized tissues don’t glide freely over each other, this can manifest as pain or stiffness. Rolling has been particularly effective for the upper back, the gluteals, and various regions in the legs including the iliotibial band (ITB), a trouble area for runners and often a difficult area to release when tight. View some of my top foam roller exercises.

Small firm balls of all kinds are an inexpensive and handy aid in trigger point release. For instance, placing a ball under the center of one glute and putting your weight into it can release a tight piriformis muscle, a common cause of sciatic pain.

Despite some controversy, ice continues to be a safe and effective alternative for pain management and is still the modality of choice for acute injuries. Pain and swelling can inhibit muscle strength. Cryotherapy continues to play a key role in rehabilitation.

Trust your intuition and your own body wisdom.  No one knows your body and its particular quirks better than you.  If it’s telling you to back off, listen.

We all eventually slow down as we age and we need to recalibrate our expectations creating new goals that keep us motivated and functional.

Whatever it was that drove you to be an athlete in the first place, hold onto that feeling. You can still keep an active lifestyle as you age and maintain that feeling of health, fitness and joy of being alive!

Author-Teresa Maldonado Marchok MPT

Licensed physical therapist, PMA certified Pilates instructor, conference presenter, ambassador for the national organization “American Bone Health“, creator of the BoneSmart Pilates® Method and AGING STRONG Pilates® DVD series and a former soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company. She’s been affiliated with Stanford’s Health Improvement Program since 1998 as a lecturer and Aging Strong Pilates® instructor. www.BoneSmartPilates.com

 

 

Many people have expressed an interest in learning more about my recent travels this month to New Zealand. Since it was such a unique experience, I’m happy to share with you the deep gratitude that I have both for the beauty of that country and for the opportunity to share this adventure with my husband, daughter and my son who is in the middle of a gap year and headed to college in the fall. Here are the trip highs and one low.


Cruise on the Milford Sound with my husband and children

Moments that stood out for me…

My son skydiving for the first time, and from 20,000 feet! Mind you this is a young man who is afraid of spiders yet he did this with calm assurance.  Blew me away.

Mother and baby dolphin by our boat

Seeing a momma and baby dolphin swimming side by side near our boat on my birthday.  The plan was to swim with the dolphins but if there’s a nursing mom in the pod, they restrict people from swimming with them so we don’t interfere with their feeding schedule.  I totally understood and was just grateful to experience their beauty and lively spirits from the boat.

Snorkeling was colorful and quite active as the guide cut up sea urchin for us to feed the fish. 

On the south island we had the opportunity to kayak to some secluded beaches in Abel Tasman National Park and I marveled at the architectural beauty of the sea carved caves, the unique sounds of the birds-unlike anything I’ve heard before, the ornate shells and even the startling beauty of a single red mushroom on our hike.

Getting stronger as I age?
Titanic Moment!

There was the stunning beauty of Milford Sound as our boat was surrounded on either side by high cliffs and waterfalls.  I even had a “Titanic moment”  with my husband on the ship as well as a dancer moment with legs going north and south. 

I can’t help it. It’s in my DNA

A high was whizzing down the world’s steepest tree to tree zip line through native beech forest in Queenstown. Unfortunately this was scaffolded with a low. Unbeknownst to us, the Christchurch massacre was simultaneously unfolding.

Homes throughout NZ had flags at half mast

The pain and sorrow in this region was palpable yet I marveled at the fact that this country in an astoundingly short time, just 6 days, managed to put in place an assault weapon ban.  I realize I’m treading on unstable ground with different people and their different points of view about this. The ban may not eliminate all such future tragedies but I believe to be true that it will indeed make a difference.

Franz Joseph Glacier

Enjoyed a hike with stunning views of Franz Joseph Glacier, colored blue because of the lack of air bubbles in the compressed snowpack. A low was seeing how much the glacier receded in the last decade due to global warming.

Franz Joseph Glacier Hot Springs

A soak in the local hot springs and a visit to see live Kiwi in a protected environment completed the day’s adventures. I love soft squishy stuffed wild animals and rationalized that I couldn’t buy a kiwi until I saw one live.

Maori traditional Haka dancer-Have you seen a tongue that long before?

The Haka! You may have heard of that?  It’s the native Maori male dance that is designed to intimidate opponents. We visited a live Maori village and as a dancer, I really appreciated the power of their forceful arm gestures, low to the ground stomping, wild bug-eyed, tongue thrusting facial expressions and thunderous chants. This unique dance underscores the power of movement, the power of dance. In fact, the All Blacks, the national NZ rugby team does the dance before every game. It’s also been performed across NZ in the wake of the Christchurch shootings as a symbol of unification in their time of grief.

Follow this link to learn what the Haka means and to see a video of how the Haka is performed.

Sheep, llama, and more sheep. I’ve never seen as many sheep farms as I have here. We visited the Agrodome in Rotorua, a farm that offered interactive experiences with the llama, sheep, sheep shearing demos and an informational tour. I loved getting right in there with these animals as did my kids.


Have you dug your own hot tub in the sand?  That’s exactly what we did on our last day in NZ at Hot Water Beach on the North Island.  At low tide you grab a shovel (rent from local merchants) dig a big hole and soak in natural geothermal hot springs with the ocean as your landscape. It’s quite a fun festive atmosphere as more and more people gather to dig their holes around you.

Digging a natural hot tub with hip hinging, spine sparing technique
Enjoying our hot tub at Hot Water Beach

I appreciated the thought behind this New Zealand crossing sign, displaying concern and responsibility for those who need just a little more time to cross the street.

This booth, seen in Kaiteriteri, on the south island of NZ. It seems you can have your asparagus with or without horse poo.

I’m happy to say that I began several days with some Pilates in my PJ’s using my core ball and resistance band and even did my “Counter series” from my first DVD on a terrace overlooking the sea.  This helped counteract the negative effects of prolonged plane and car rides.  I also made sure to use my spine sparing “hip hinging” technique whenever lifting something or in the photo above, when shoveling sand for our Hot Water Beach hot tub

Core ex with BoneSmart miniball
Counter series

Hip hinging rest position on the plane-actually found this worked!


It’s with gratitude that I’ve returned home safe, healthy and excited to continue sharing my BoneSmart Pilates method with you.

I hope you all make it a priority to take care of yourselves at home and also when traveling. Consistently doing just a few well chosen core exercises and stretches can make all the difference!

Penny Eckert

I have a passion for helping people to age strong. That goal can only go so far if there isn’t follow through by the participant during the hours and days that occur outside of class. Penny (Penelope) Eckert is a distinguished linguistics professor at Stanford where she first took a class with me over a decade ago, then later with private lessons at my Mountain View studio.

What impresses me most about Penny is her commitment to her health and her drive and determination to apply the principles and exercises we work on in class, into her daily routine. She’s one of the clients who I design home programs for who actually follows through and does them. Because of her tenacity, she’s overcome various physical obstacles and I’m proud to say she is a great example of someone who is aging strong.

The following is an interview with Penny.

What’s your line of work?
I’m a professor of Linguistics at Stanford University.

What inspired you to try Pilates? 
I was having back pain and I’d been reading about Pilates. Then I sat next to a woman on a plane who did Pilates and raved about it, so …. I signed up for a Pilates class at Stanford. My back pain was gone by the end of the quarter. Then I signed up for a class with Teresa and it was a revelation. Her classes were an amazing workout and her eagle eye made sure every move was precise. I swear she can see under my clothes. I’ve been addicted to Pilates with Teresa now for fourteen years.

What was an AHA moment you had in Pilates?
I think the biggest AHA moment was when I realized I was in charge of my body, and that I knew what to do at every moment to keep it strong. 

What are the most potent movement principles that you apply to your daily life?
The key to well-being is making sure my core feels strong before I leave the house in the morning, reminding myself to sit and stand tall and relaxed (the key to keeping my shoulders down and released) throughout the day, and striding rather than walking in little steps. 

Which is your most challenging exercise and why?
At the moment my most challenging exercise is your Standing Clocking exercise.  It’s challenging because I seem to have pretty lousy balance but I love it. But then … the Iliotibial band stretch is challenging because It hurts and I HATE it!

Which is your favorite exercise and why?
Since the classic hundreds is not safe for me to do anymore, I enjoy the modified standing hundreds because it warms me up and gets my core firing.  I also love just about anything on the reformer and TRX. 

What is your greatest physical challenge and how have you addressed it?
My back pain came from a messy spine, and I’ve had two spinal fusions since I began Pilates. My surgeon told me that the success of such surgeries depends on the patient’s preceding physical condition, and there’s no question that having a strong core has made all the difference for me. My recovery was fast and once the fusion was complete, I went back to Pilates rather than doing regular physical therapy. I’m six months out from my second surgery and my back feels amazingly strong. 

What improvements and benefits have you noticed during your life outside of class?
I feel much stronger, balanced, and centered. I stand and walk taller. I’m pain free.