Keeping Your Body ‘Bank Account’ Filled-Up

By on August 3, 2011

By Marjorie Jaffe –

I compare body maintenance to a bank account. The less you take out, the more you have.

You can keep putting in more as you need, but it’s far better to keep what you have and not take out most of what you put in. You can get strong and flexible muscles by doing strengthening and stretching exercises, but, hunching, slumping and slouching after your workout will undo and ‘take out’ the benefits you gained from it.

Even the majority of back & neck pain can be avoided by maintaining proper posture and muscle tone. When your neck muscles are strong and you can keep your head lifted, your shoulders will fall more naturally into place. And since spinal nerve endings need space between them to avoid discomfort, this not only lengthens your neck, drops your shoulders and looks better, but you’ll create space between your nerve endings and eliminate that nagging neck pain.

woman sitting at upright in chairMost of us spend huge amounts of time sitting down. Slumping when you sit causes the back muscles to compress which then irritates the nerves. To ease the strain of sitting, place something like a phone book in front of your chair under your feet. This will raise your knees to a level higher than your hips and thus relax stiff lower-back muscles.

Place a small pillow behind your ribcage – from the back of your waist up to the bra line – to fill the space between your middle back and the back of your chair. Make sure your buttocks go all the way to the back of the chair. This way, you won’t slump, your belly won’t stick out and you’ll be aligned and feel lighter.

If you’re required to sit in front of a computer for many hours, try to set the center of the computer screen at eye level. See that your desk height is such that your forearms rest comfortably at a right angle on it. Consider using a lower chair to accomplish this.

Sitting at your computer, or, even hours in the car, can be very wearing and leave you stiff. Try to get up at least every hour to stretch and loosen up. *Move each joint within its comfort zone several times a day.

*The Anytime/Anywhere loosen-up stretch: >Begin with the neck – Tip ear towards shoulder and slowly circle neck 3 xs in each direction. >For shoulders – Slowly circle shoulders forward 5X and then backwards 5X. Shrug and drop to relax. >For wrists – Make a loose fist and circle 3X in both directions. >For ribcage – With hands on hips to feel stable, slowly circle your ribcage 3X in both directions. >For Hips – Mimic a belly dancer’s hip rolls 3X in both directions. >For ankles – With toes on floor, lift heels and circle 3X in both directions.

Muscle tension is good when you’re doing it on purpose. Tensing a muscle, or contracting or pulling it in is the ways we work a muscle. But, tension, without an equal amount of *relaxation, weakens your muscles. Be aware not to tense your muscles unconsciously – as in hunching your shoulders. Don’t ‘take out’ the chest and upper back muscle strength you’ve gained from your exercise – keep and use those muscles to have straight shoulders!

*Breathe for Relaxation: Complete focus on how you breathe helps you free your mind of clutter. Breathe in the manner that feels natural. Sit comfortably in a quiet place and practice breathing for a few minutes. You’ll enjoy the refreshing feeling of ‘letting go’ of tension. Breathe in through your nose and count silently 1-2-3; then breathe out through your mouth to expel the air and count silently 1-2-3; now, sit quietly, ‘let go’ and count silently 1-2-3. Repeat until you feel the magic of relaxation.

Practice good posture when you *stand or *walk. >Before you make your first step, mimic an athletic stance in which you feel the balance between the left and right side and front and back of each foot and where those lines intersect is the middle of your foot. As your heel strikes the ground, feel the weight shift through the foot toward the metatarsal arch (at the ball of your foot). > Your knee functions as a transfer joint between the hip and the ankle. Feel the thigh muscles balanced and working together to keep the knee aligned and not stiff. >Use your arms in a rhythmic, swinging motion. > If possible, catch a reflection of yourself in a store window and check that the back of your head is in the same line as your upper back. Often, mostly when we’re in hurry, your head moves forward and your neck hunches –- move your head back so it stands at the top and is at the center of your body.

Choose the right walking shoes. Don’t go for a snug fit. Feel a space the width of your thumbnail between the toe box and the tip of your longest toe. I use shoes with padding in the heel and the ball of the foot.

If I lived near a mountain, I’d be out there hiking every day. But, this is not practical living in mid-town Manhattan. Instead, I find that using my treadmill daily gives me the surge of benefits that I enjoy –- *cardio fitness and *mental relaxation. My average treadmill workout is at a 3.8 speed; 8 incline level for 45 minutes.

*Treadmill Program: The first 2or 3 minutes are for your heart to adapt to the activity. In 8 minutes you’re into your cardiovascular training zone. Stay in that zone for at least 20 – 30 minutes and you’ll be in the fat burning zone. Then slow your pace and cool down to complete a 30 – 45 minute workout. As your stamina and strength increase, you can vary your workout. Try alternating quicker and slower speeds and/or increase the incline level. Take your pulse rate, and check that it hasn’t exceeded your target heart rate.

To determine your heart rate (HR), begin with the number 220 (your maximum heart rate) minus your age, times the workout intensity percentage (60% – 85%). For example: Age 60 60%, =HR96 70%=HR112 75%=HR120 80%=HR128

With a positive mindset and an awareness of good posture, you can keep it going for a long, comfortable and fun time. Be aware of not taking out all the good fitness you work for as you sit, stand and walk, and use it to do something wonderful for yourself every day.

Marjorie Jaffe, owner of Back in Shape exercise studio in NYC & lifelong fitness expert, is the author of a number of books including, The Muscle Memory Method, Get Your Back in Shape and Albert the Running Bear’s Exercise Book, as well as a Reader’s Digest Books contributor. She was trained by Dr. Sonya Weber; founder of Columbia Presbyterian’s Posture and Back Care Clinic, and she served for ten years as head instructor for the YWCA Backcare program. Website: http://marjoriejaffe.com/.

About Marjorie Jaffe

Marjorie Jaffe, owner of Back in Shape exercise studio in NYC & lifelong fitness expert, is the author of a number of books including, The Muscle Memory Method, Get Your Back in Shape and Albert the Running Bear’s Exercise Book, as well as a Reader’s Digest Books contributor. She was trained by Dr. Sonya Weber; founder of Columbia Presbyterian’s Posture and Back Care Clinic, and she served for ten years as head instructor for the YWCA Backcare program. Website: http://marjoriejaffe.com.

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Keeping Your Body ‘Bank Account’ Filled-Up