Tag Archive for: Teresa Maldonado Marchok

One of the most significant changes to the landscape of our work environment has been the direct result of the COVID 19 pandemic. A study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found that people are sitting an additional 7.8 hours per week – since the pandemic started. More people than ever in history are now working from home even after restrictions were lifted. Working at home involves many challenges, including protecting your spine while hunched over a laptop or scrunched on the couch. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your back and your productivity. Support spine health while you work with these tips from BoneSmart Pilates.

Take Steps to Reduce Stress

Stress can wreak havoc on your life, but it can also make chronic pain more challenging to manage Stanford Medicine points out that easing stress will reduce pain, so taking steps to de-stress is worth the effort. Eliminating work-related stress starts with creating a comforting and inviting home office space. De-stress your workspace by cleaning up clutter, storing scattered paper records, and adding natural lighting. Having a space that is clean and organized supports clear thinking and productivity.

Take Walks to Reduce Stress Further

Step away from your computer or to-do list at lunch or quitting time. Taking a walk is a great way to relax and clear your head. If you have a pet, it’s an even better reason to keep you and your buddy healthy and your bonds strong. Consult a Walk Score map of your community or the area near your office to find the best walking spots.

Though your work setting is one factor that creates stress, getting enough sleep, exercising like the walks I mentioned, and mental stimulation are also critical.

 

 

Work on Proper Posture

Protecting your spinal health means more than avoiding injury; maintaining proper working posture protects your back.  For good posture, stand tall with your shoulders positioned back and down in a relaxed manner and your chin parallel to the floor. While seated, aim for a 90-degree bend at your knees and elbows with your spine long and straight.  A healthy spine position reduces strain on your muscles and joints and can even make you appear taller and more confident.

 

 

 

 

Make a Reminder Poster

Using a free online tool to design a poster or vision board, like the one I created above, is a fun and effective way to remind yourself of good postural habits and practices.

These tools offer a range of templates you can customize to suit your preferences, allowing you to add your own text and photos. You could include tips for maintaining proper posture while sitting or standing, exercises to strengthen posture-supporting muscles, or even inspirational quotes to encourage mindfulness about body alignment. Place the poster in a prominent spot where you spend much of your time, like your workspace or living area. This visual cue reminds you to adjust your posture, cultivate healthier habits, and reduce the risk of discomfort or strain.

Invest in Creative Furniture

If your current office setup is not conducive to good posture, consider changing things up. An ergonomic chair, or even a desk with adjustable height, can make a world of difference for your seated posture. Many work-at-home professionals swear by standing desks. My son even installed his own. This could help you avoid the effects of “soft tissue creep” that occurs with sitting for prolonged periods in a slumped posture.

Try sitting on a physioball as an alternative to a chair. It promotes movement and better posture, which is great for your spine. It’s also easy to shift forward and drape back over the ball to relieve back strain, as seen
in this stretch here.

Perform Spine-Safe Exercises

Strengthening your spine is one way to improve posture and prevent back pain. Dr. Stuart McGill is a renowned Canadian spine expert who has developed the Big 3 top exercises to prevent back pain, which I demonstrate in this video. I look forward to advancing my spine assessment skills by immersing myself in coursework with him this spring!

Other activities that strengthen your core muscles can also minimize pain. Swimming and cycling are excellent examples of low-impact exercise that is spine-safe and healthy; however, if your goal is improving bone density, don’t let swimming or cycling be your primary choice. They don’t build bone.  Walking and hiking are excellent options for building strength, maintaining or building bone density, and promoting healthy circulation. Practicing BoneSmart Pilates can improve your strength, mobility, posture, balance, and bone density while relieving chronic stress and tension.

Enjoy Regular Movement Snacks

Our bodies crave movement. One of the worst things we can do to our body is sit unmoving for prolonged periods. Something known as “Soft tissue creep” occurs. That’s when our connective tissue reshapes and adapts to that cashew posture position you’ve been adopting. The body erroneously thinks it needs to “stabilize” you in this new faulty posture by adapting and reorganizing connective tissue.  Studies show that “movement snacks” – bite-sized spurts of exercise throughout the day – can be just as effective as lengthy sweat banquets.

 

In addition to reducing your risk of health complications, consider these perks:

  • Better sleep
  • Bursts of mood-enhancing endorphins such as dopamine and serotonin
  • Increased longevity
  • Clearer thinking, learning, and judgment

To prevent prolonged sitting, set a reminder on your computer every half hour and enjoy a regular 5-minute movement break.  Even hourly will help!

What should you do?  Play a favorite song and dance like no one’s watching.  Do some squats, heel raises, or counter push-ups.

Enjoy a BoneSmart Burst™, a 5-10 minute curated movement snack, easy to incorporate into your day, that’s bone-safe, and will help prevent you from getting the dreaded Dowager’s hump, that exaggerated rounding in the upper back.

 

Seek Care for a Better Back

Severe back pain can impact your ability to work, no matter how many precautions you take or adjustments you make to your work-at-home routine. Be sure to seek medical guidance if your back pain doesn’t resolve. We want to rule out any underlying causes that might manifest as back pain.

Healthy Back for Life

Spine health is serious business. If you work from home, especially if you sit for long periods, you must take care of your back. Use the tips I’ve shared today to help your back remain mobile and healthy throughout your life.

 

In the comments section below, let me know which tips made a difference for you!

Do you have some tips that I haven’t mentioned?  Please share!

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise can feel like drudgery when you frame it as something you “have to do” rather than something you “get to do.”

As a movement educator and motivator, I’m always searching for ways to infuse joy into the classes I teach. Why? Because it makes it fun. If movement isn’t fun, why do it?  It should feel good and help change your outlook in some way.

The way I teach is informed by science and research. I’m particularly influenced by the research findings of Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and author of “The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage.”

Across cultures and ages, there are specific movements that both express and elicit joy. Think about hitting a goal, winning a race, or accomplishing something important to you. The universal physical sign for joy is arms thrown overhead in the air. This is seen with young and old, internationally, and even with blind people who’ve never visually seen that movement. It’s a universal physical manifestation of an emotion.

 

 

 

If we listen to music in a group, we might notice people swaying their arms overhead, often in unison, expressing joy and connection.

The feelings you derive from a class can have lasting positive effects. For instance, if you felt strong and capable during certain exercises when you encounter a challenge later in the day, you are already armed with the sense that you are strong enough to handle it. You’ve altered your outlook even outside of class. That’s a powerful way to use movement to foster a positive mental state.

 

Celebrate what you CAN Do!

Sometimes we become so focused on our limitations that we forget to celebrate what we CAN do! Maybe it’s just moving to your favorite music in a way that makes you smile. That’s an absolutely legitimate form of exercise, and you should incorporate whatever kind of movement brings you joy. Movement in any form should be viewed as a gift to celebrate.

Try these Incentives

Use one of these three ideas to feel good during movement: music, nature, and/or people.

Add some motivating music. According to McGonigal, music is a “powerful evoker of joy” and can help release endorphins and dopamine. Endorphins and dopamine are both chemicals in your body that make you happy, but they function in different ways. Endorphins relieve pain naturally. When they attach to your brain’s reward centers (opiate receptors), dopamine (a mood-boosting neurotransmitter) is then released. For example, endorphins will naturally help soothe a runner’s achy muscles.

 

 

“Green Exercise”, working out in nature has an immediate effect on mood and can help people feel calmer and happier, improving mental health.

 

 

 

 

Moving Together
As Barbara Streisand so eloquently sang, “People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”   As a former professional dancer, I felt firsthand the power I experienced dancing, moving, and even breathing as one in a group. The sensations and emotions you experience, whether they be strength, joy, or discovery, are amplified tenfold in a group setting.

 

 

I’ll never forget my first time back teaching in-person group classes toward the end of the pandemic. One of the participants came up to me with tears in her eyes after class. She shared how deeply moved she was by being able to exercise in connection with others again, breathing, laughing, and moving together. This revelation both surprised and touched her.

Track Progress In a Novel Way

Give your trackers a break for a bit. Maybe be a little less data-driven; find a word that best describes how you feel after a workout. Track that instead to support a mindset of joy.

During one of my recent Signature BoneSmart Pilates® Standing Strong classes that I teach, I asked the participants to note how they felt before class with just one word. Some of their words included: “discombobulated, vulnerable, stiff, tired, flustered, and exhausted.”

After an hour of moving together with beautiful music and supportive cues, they each shared a word describing how they felt. These descriptions included solid, confident, invigorated, hopeful, and free. The evolution that occurred with each individual is a testament to the transformative power of movement to elicit joy and optimism.

In Conclusion
The process of moving (even over Zoom) with a joyful mindset and perhaps some motivating music can be transformative and set you up to have a fantastic day!

Some people are either or people. I believe both have benefits for improving bone health.

When you add resistance to your routine, your muscles release calcium, magnesium, and other minerals that strengthen your bones. Your muscles don’t know whether the resistance comes from bands or weights.  Whatever you are more prone actually to do, that is the mode of choice. If you dislike weights, go for bands.
I personally like mixing things up.

Here’s the thing, though, you need to really challenge yourself for change to occur.

With resistance training, it’s too light if you can breeze through 20 reps of an overhead press. You’re building endurance, not strength. You should feel “worked” after 10-12 reps at a given resistance (whether it be weights or bands) with excellent alignment and good breathing technique.

I tell Pilates teachers to load up the springs on the Reformer for leg work for their clients with osteoporosis. If the springs aren’t heavy enough, they won’t gain strength or bone. (of course, ensuring proper form)

The other thing to remember is that your bone health is not only a reflection of your exercise. It’s also a function of your nutrition, supplementation, daily activities, or lack of…it’s difficult to tease out.

I believe your best shot at optimal bone health is doing weight-bearing resistance and impact exercises, dancing, walking/hiking, sports you enjoy AND also addressing other factors in your life that support bone health. When appropriate, medications may be the right choice.

Most people want a multifactorial approach to their bone health. I get that. In many ways, we are our own laboratory.

I want to share this interesting study from researchers at the U. of Oregon demonstrating how training with resistance bands increases bone mineral density.

“It is sometimes difficult for sedentary people to change their habits, and going to a gym would be more difficult. But elastic bands offer an interesting alternative since they allow enough intensity to stimulate bone mass, and a multitude of exercises are possible. Regular practice of 2 weekly sessions involving work on the main muscle groups of the body will increase bone mineral density.”  Here’s the research study

 

 

Amy SmileyAmy Smiley, Age 62

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOU

I spent most of my life in California, with a short stint in Sweden in the 1970s. My degrees are in Chemical Engineering and I worked in the biotech industry once I got out of graduate school. I loved working in such a new field at the time. As the family grew, I decided to quit my paid job and stay home with the children. As time went on I realized I needed a creative outlet and took up Plein air painting (with the same fantastic friend who introduced me to Teresa’s classes!). After my family and friends, I love the outdoors, science, gardening, and art.

WHEN DID YOU BEGIN SESSIONS WITH TERESA?

I started classes with Teresa in 2012 and have continued with them ever since. Teresa’s Pilates classes are a priority for me because of the physical and mental benefits they provide. I have celiac disease, which causes any number of inflammatory problems and Teresa’s classes are essential to my ability to manage those issues. When something has to fall off my plate it won’t be Teresa’s class!

 

WHAT MOVEMENT OR PRINCIPLE HAS HELPED YOU THE MOST?

I’d like to choose just one movement or body dynamic principle that I learned from Teresa that has helped me but there are too many!  From ribs down to soup bowl to lifting your toes…I am always learning something new, even ten years later.  I think, for myself, as I continue to become more body aware, I continue to learn in each class.  And, as new issues develop as the years march on, I discover new fixes for them.  Everything that I have learned from Teresa applies not only in class but in other activities and my daily movement.  Not to mention that Teresa is so gracious with her time whenever anyone has a question about alignment or movement difficulties.  She always takes time to answer any questions and I learn from my questions and those of others.  What a fantastic tool!

 

Amy Smiley Testimonial for Aging Strong Pilates

WHAT WERE THE EFFECTS OF THE PANDEMIC ON YOUR MOVEMENT PRACTICE?

At the beginning of the pandemic, I dropped the gym and in-person classes.  Although we stayed active, I really missed the benefit and connection of group exercise classes.  I worried about how well I would maintain mobility and strength without the motivation and guidance that Teresa provides.  When Teresa opened her remote classes I jumped right in and was so grateful! Now that some degree of normalcy is returning, having the option of in-person and virtual classes is even better than before.

I absolutely love the energy and camaraderie in the in-person classes.  They are a tonic for the soul.  I can’t think of a single class where I haven’t had a good laugh for one reason or another.  I missed that tremendously until in-person became available again.  But it’s also great to have access to the class online if I can’t make it in person and to have the videos afterward.

 

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that alleviates tightness and trigger points (aka muscle knots) by using your body’s weight against a foam roller. The benefits are many.

 

 

BENEFITS OF FOAM ROLLING:
  • Increases blood flow and elasticity of muscle tissue, joints, and fascia, the body’s connective tissue, which helps with mobility and overall well-being.
  • Reduces inflammation that occurs during the muscle repair process.
  • Helps injury prevention by maintaining muscle length and alleviating tension and tightness.
  • Releases tension promoting relaxation.
FOAM ROLLING PRO-TIP: 

Click to view the video. If you are new to the Aging Strong Pilates Facebook Community, you will have to join the group to see the video.

For all the moves, you’ll want to stop wherever it feels tight or tender. Breathe allowing the pressure and stillness to create a release. You’ll note the benefit immediately. When you experience that release, inhale, and then as you exhale, slowly roll your way to another tight spot and repeat.

DEMONSTRATIONS:

Want to see some demonstrations of key roller exercises? Watch the video on our Aging Strong Pilates private FB page where I demonstrate effective techniques to melt away your stress and your knots. You can also ask your questions there. I moderate daily.

 

HOW ELSE CAN YOU USE THE ROLLER?

The foam roller is not just for relieving knots and tension. It can also be used to increase the challenge to certain muscles and improve your postural stabilizers which are important for balance.

Imagine lying on your back with bent knees, the soles of your feet on a roller that’s perpendicular to your body.  Doing bridging this way increases the challenge to the muscles in the back of your legs because your feet are on an unstable surface that, without adequate hamstring firing, will roll away from you.

Here’s another scenario:

Lying vertically on the roller with your head to your buttocks supported by the roller- similar to the photo on top, knees bent, feet and fingertips on the floor.  Challenge your postural stabilizers by marching in place – lifting and lowering one bent knee. Notice how your balance systems kick into high gear to keep you from falling off the roller.

YOUTUBE FOR ROLLER AND MORE

My Youtube channel “BoneSmart Pilates” has many free videos that support your movement practice. Check out this one which includes 6 Great Foam Roller Exercises to Start Your Day!

 

Have you found navigating my online booking system challenging?
I created these short video tutorials to make everything easy peasy, crystal clear!
  1. First view the “Overview for All” before clicking the video for the category of class that interests you.
  2. Bookmark my scheduling home page BoneSmartPilates.as.me for easy access
  3. If you prefer using mobile devices, download the free app “Acuity Scheduling Client” from the App store. My sisters find it easy to navigate.
  4. Always Log In whenever you’re on the site. If  you haven’t created an account you can Create an Account Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here it is, almost 10 months after I started this ReCode (Reverse Cognitive Decline) Clinical Trial.

Allow me to back up for a moment and share with you what got me concerned about my brain health in the first place. Back in 2019 and before, I noticed I was forgetting people, appointments, names, why I was holding the object in my hands, and so on.  True it’s common for that to happen occasionally but it was happening more and more frequently. I have a strong family history of Alzheimer’s disease and I was worried.

Through clinical study genetic testing, I learned that I carry the ApoE4 gene, that sucky one that makes me susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease. The good news from the book “End of Alzheimer’s”  written by Dr. Dale Bredesen from which this clinical trial is based, is that your genes are not your destiny.  I believe that is true really of any genetic predisposition you might have for whatever disease. The genetic gun may be loaded but you have the power and choice to avoid the triggers that will tip the balance that puts you over the edge.  Those are the secrets I learned in this trial. How not to pull the trigger.

Time to celebrate!

What are my key learnings from this clinical trial that might help you?  I’ve experienced improvements in cognition, weight loss, sleep, gum health, and overall energy.  When reading the recommendations given to me, keep in mind that many of the nutritional supplements and hormone choices were selected for my unique biochemistry so the type and dosage may not translate to you. Best to consult with your own wellness practitioner for customization.

My Cognition Improved
The Recode protocol which includes a combination of a Ketogenic diet, Intermittent Fasting, exercise, nutritional and hormonal supplementation, brain training, and mindfulness training has helped me to crawl out of the abyss of cognitive decline.

  • Cognitive function tests have all markedly improved since baseline testing in December of 2019 to the point of testing “out of the range” of cognitive decline to normal levels.  I was in the range of “cognitive decline” for my initial testing.

I lost considerable weight

  • I lost 15 pounds on this diet, with a noticeable improvement around my waistline. I’ve lost fat but not muscle as evidenced by the physical testing that I underwent at the beginning and end of the study and by Body Mass Index (BMI) testing on special equipment.  For me, I believe the aspects that contributed to weight loss were intermittent fasting (no nighttime snacking), no sugar, high fat/low carb ketogenic diet which includes no bread. Exercise is also very important but I was doing that already. It was the food and fasting that were the new variables.

I’m Sleeping Better

  • Since I’ve been in this study my sleep has markedly improved.  I used to get up repeatedly to go to the bathroom and at times would have difficulty getting back to sleep. I now sleep through the night and when I do get up, I can fall right back asleep easily.
    From my understanding, the following that I’m taking positively affects my sleep. Remember it may look very different for you and your body.

Over the counter supplements:

    • NeuroMag by Designs for Health 3 capsules at bedtime  (=144 mg magnesium)
    • Melatonin SRT by Designs for Health 1 tablet bedtime (6mg)

Prescription meds

    • Progesterone 200mg cap (Costco has it the cheapest)
    • Naltrexone 3mg tablet

Improved Gum Health

  • Dentalcidin toothpaste with Biocidin by Bio-Botanical Research is the natural toothpaste that I’ve been provided to use for the entire clinical study. My dental hygienist asked me what I was doing differently as my gum health improved significantly. I told her about the study and apparently, the change in diet and toothpaste resulted in this improvement.  Marie, one of my Pilates students, started using this same toothpaste after I mentioned it in class and she shared this with me. “I went to my dentist yesterday and got a great review on how well my gums looked after using this natural toothpaste.”

Reflecting on this clinical trial I found further evidence of the efficacy of a multimodal approach to cognitive decline and the prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease.   Doctors often tell patients at high risk of Alzheimer’s due to having pre-dementia conditions—such as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) or Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI)—that there is really nothing that they can do other than wait and monitor. A recent study from Australia suggests that advice may be out of date. Researchers found that modest lifestyle changes (e.g., a nutrition plan, a physical exercise plan, and BrainHQ brain training which was all included in my clinical trial plus more) significantly reduced Alzheimer’s risk after only eight weeks. You can read a news article about the study here.

As I contemplate life after ReCode, I know that I’ll continue brain training, sauna, intermittent fasting, and will continue with the Dentalcidin toothpaste. I’ll maintain aspects of the ketogenic diet, and will add some carb cycling in.  I miss things like my brown rice and beans, bananas, and sweet potatoes. I don’t really miss bread and will choose to keep that at bay. I believe dropping bread and sugar contributed to my weight loss.  As I prepare to have my final clinical study doctor appt on Oct. 8, I’ll be advised then on how to smoothly transition out of clinical study mode with guidelines on what supplements to continue and what I can drop.  I’ll fill you in on the details next month in my epilogue!

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.

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!