Fit for Life…Everyday Exercise 4 of 10

WALKOUTS! This is the fourth exercise of ten in the functional fitness series and as such it is a true body weight exercise. The walkout will use every major joint in the body when executed to completion. It is for this reason that it has a prominent place in the top ten daily exercises.

The Walkout

How To Perform: Before engaging in the actual walkout exercise you may want to perform some lower body exercises to warm up your legs and back before beginning the walkout. Once you are warmed up, perform a few toe touch repetitions (step B) to realize a nice stretch in your legs and back.

If you are still working on upper body strength and not sure whether you can perform the entire exercise with good form, then only perform steps A through C of the walkout for the first week or two before walking yourself out (and back) to the high plank position. You may bend your knees during the beginning of the walkout phase to assist your hands reaching the floor without over-stretching your hamstrings.

Perform three to ten walkouts each day, paying special attention to your form throughout the exercise. When you reach the end of the walkout (step D), make sure your shoulder and wrists are aligned (one above the other), and engage your core (no sagging or hiking at the hips) so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to toes. Hold this position for a count of three to five seconds, then walk yourself back to a standing position. Perform up to 10 repetitions.

Little by little one walks far. ~ Peruvian Proverb

How To Progress: As you gain upper body strength and core stamina, you can progress this exercise by adding some pushups at step D,  before walking yourself back to the standing position. Additionally, you may challenge your core strength by walking your hands out a couple inches past your shoulders and a little wider than shoulder width apart (pictured below). Hold this new position for three to five seconds in good form, then walk your hands back toward your feet to the standing position.

The Walkout Progressed

The Walkout Progressed

Perform these purposeful exercises faithfully everyday, and your strength and flexibility will improve before your very eyes. Functional fitness exercise 5 of 10 will be posted within the next few days. Keep moving!


Fit for Life…A Functional Exercise Plan (A Series of 10)

In recent years, ‘functional fitness’ has become a buzz word in the fitness industry to sell and package a wide array of exercise programs to potential training clients. Whether sports specific or generalized training is sold, functional fitness terminology is used so frequently that it often means different things to different populations.

For purposes of my Fit for Life Series, I define functional fitness (exercise) as a strength training plan which involves performing work against resistance (preferably body weight resistance) in such a manner that the improvements in strength directly enhance the performance of movements found in those activities of daily living. Yet, before I continue with a discussion of functional fitness, I would first like to define the dual components of fitness.

The health related  components of fitness measure an individual’s cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition (% fat vs. lean tissue). The skill related components of fitness rate an individual’s agility, coordination, balance, power, reaction time and speed.

Used in this context, a functional, Fit for Life, exercise plan would train your body for life, rather than for a specific sport or for a certain aesthetic appearance. This type of training is especially helpful for older adults because it addresses muscle imbalances and asymmetries, and it addresses improvements (strength, flexibility) for the ways we move  throughout our daily activities.

There are five basic movement patterns that we use in everyday life:

1. Bend-and-lift movements. In the gym we call it squatting, in everyday life it’s getting in and out of a chair or squatting down to lift a bag of groceries from the floor. Bend and lift movements require strength in the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, but also plenty of stability in the core, and flexibility in the knees and ankles.

2. Single-leg movements. You’ll often train single leg movements in the gym with a variety of lunging movements. In real life, single-leg movements are called for when you walk, when you climb or descend stairs, or when you bend and reach forward on one leg to get something from the floor. Like the bend-and-lift movements, single-leg movements require combined strength, stability and flexibility with an added element of balance over a changing center of gravity.

3. Pushing movements. Pushing movements typically involve your upper body pushing forward (opening a store door) pushing overhead (putting an object on a high shelf) or pushing to the side (lifting your torso from a side-lying position). In your workout you can train for pushing movements with pushups, overhead presses or side planks.

4. Pulling movements. Pulling movements in your activities of daily living might include pulling the car door shut, pulling the sheets down from the top shelf of the linen closet, or pulling your suitcase off the floor. In your workouts you’ll train for pulling movements by developing core stability, strength in your back and shoulders, stability in your shoulder blades and flexibility in your shoulders.

5. Rotational movements. Your thoracic spine rotates with every step you take and any time you swing a golf club or tennis racket. Any time you reach across your body or twist through the spine, you’re engaging in a rotational movement. This complex movement pattern requires a great deal of core stability and strength to support the spine during the rotational motion.

Over the next few weeks, I will post ten articles. Each article will fully describe and illustrate the activities I believe are the best exercises to perform each day to improve fitness and function for life.

My next blog entry will describe the basic squat exercise with options for various progressions as improvements in strength are realized. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and these training tips with you, my blog reader in the days ahead; I invite your comments and questions should you desire to engage in a conversation on this topic.

Tell Me a Story…For Brain Power

No matter our age, most everyone likes to hear or read a good story. Whether we read the story to someone or narrate as storyteller, these activities are powerful medicine for our brains because these behaviors activate neural pathways which might otherwise not get mobilized. Some might argue that reading to ourselves is just as effective as reading out loud to others, however, silent reading is similar to watching television in terms of the amount of mental energy utilized by the brain.

So remember, if you want to sharpen your intellectual edge and build some brainy muscle, then gather together a friend or two and tell or read them a story. You never know, but your doing so could spark creative inertia  among your group of listeners; your story telling might just be the catalyst which inspires another person to write and tell a story. Perhaps their story is just waiting for a reason to be told.

Puzzle It…For Brain Power

Returning to the simple games of our childhood is yet another way we can enhance brain power as we progress in age through the decades. Improved language skills can be realized by doing crossword puzzles. Likewise, spatial awareness is advanced when you put together a jigsaw puzzle. If you already engage in puzzle activities, you can improve your mental powers by undertaking more challenging puzzles.

Not a puzzle person? Remember there is brain strengthening power for you when you engage in novel activities. So perhaps an easy word search or Sudoku puzzle will whet your appetite for further puzzling. If you enjoy using a computer, you can find word search and crossword puzzle applications for your computer or smart phone too. Don’t wait for a rainy day to have puzzle fun. Schedule regular puzzle breaks into your daily routine; think of puzzling as exercise for your brain. So be creative and puzzle it today to strengthen your most important muscle…for brain power!

Sharpen Your Senses…for Brain Power

You probably have to be around 50 years old or so (plus or minus a decade) before you actually begin to notice that some of your physical senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell) are not as keen as they used to be in the decades that have passed since your youth.

Whether the diminishing of our senses is from overuse, disuse or abuse, it really doesn’t matter; however, we do have some recourse when it comes to maintaining or improving our current sensory switchboard. If you have been reading the brainpower posts, then you already know that our brain is plastic, meaning, it is capable of learning new things, making new connections, and crisscrossing hemispheres to perform new or novel tasks. Yes, even in middle age, thank goodness, neural-plasticity is our friend, and we can help our brain stay healthy and dynamic when we perform old tasks in new ways.

So what follows are some ideas for you to use in the coming days. Perform these ‘exercises’ with some regularity to make your neural pathways strong and dependable.

For sight – Blinking frequently, palming, eye-tracking exercises

For hearing – turn the volume down and listen with intent; listen to different genres of music and try to  identify specific instruments being played

For taste – eating with the eyes closed and think about taste and texture; chew your food thoroughly to unlock more flavor molecules

For touch – Close eyes and attempt to sort coins by touch; give and receive body massage; with a friend, practice writing the letters of the alphabet using your finger as pencil on your friend’s arm, hand or back

For smell – every day smell deeply some specific item whether it be food, or flower, or fragrance; then use words to describe the scent. Performing these two activities regularly will help sprout new scent receptors.


Keep Running…It May Save Your Life

I love to run…anyone who knows me knows that, but what I love almost as much as running are stories about runners who inspire…inspire me to keep going as I run through the decades of my life. Yesterday’s post on Runner’s World was just such a story. A story that took over half a century to unfold, but those many years were needed to make a strong point about the power of running to heal our bodies and minds; when we put our shoes on and show up to run, no matter how we feel (mentally or physically) we set off a chain reaction of health and healing for ourselves. Whether we are 30 years old or 80+ years old, running is excellent therapy. Read Sylvia’s story and be inspired today and know with certainty that the obstacles to your  well-being can be overcome with the help of God and your own two legs.  Now get out there and have a wonder-filled run!

Spell Me a Sign…for Brain Power

As you may or may not know, novelty is a key component in creating healthy brain architecture. This is the third post in the brainpower series and in today’s mind enlarging message I would like to give you another activity that will challenge and grow your brain’s neural network, specifically your visual and motor skill centers. You can enhance and wake up your brain’s neural connections by learning this new skill: sign language.

I had the opportunity to learn sign language some years ago when I was raising my infant grandchild. I wanted to be able to communicate with my grandson and have him be able to communicate with me long before he could speak words and sentences. He was not hearing impaired, but learning and teaching him sign language gave us a way to communicate before he was verbal. It was fun (and a bit challenging) to teach an infant to mimic hand signs to communicate about things and ideas like: eat, more, all-done, dirty, apple, dog, cat, bird, banana, etc. But even before his first birthday, my grandson and I could express rudimentary needs and ideas by using sign language.

For adults, learning sign language is like learning a foreign language, and unless an we have strong intrinsic motivation, most of us tend to lose interest quickly in the novelty of acquiring a secondary language. But I would like to challenge you to approach learning sign language as a health and well-being activity. Practice making the simple letter signs of the alphabet with your hand and fingers; then coordinate these letters to sign your name. This activity is a powerful, two-fold brain trainer. Using your hands and eyes at the same time to sign letters and memorizing these symbols and the order in which to use them requires muscle (motor), visual and memory skills to be employed simultaneously. This effective training activity is like a tonic for our brains. Not only will learning this skill recharge sluggish neural connections but when practiced faithfully, you will also make brand new neural connections (muscle memory). And that’s how you build a strong brain!

So go ahead, spell me a sign! A chart of the sign language alphabet is pictured below…give it a try and show someone you know your newly acquired brainpower from the palm of your hand!


Organize and Rearrange…for Brain Power

In the previous ‘Brain power‘ post, I discussed the value of mixing up our exercise and activity routines to help our neural network make new connections. Practicing non-dominant activities helps our brain build redundancy into our brain circuitry. Such behaviors may in fact help ward off or reduce the effects of aging and disease. In today’s post I would like to consider the refreshing brain benefits of organizing and re-arranging our living spaces.

Brain researchers have known for some time that organized people perform better on memory tests. Getting organized helps build better memory. The old adage ‘A place for everything and everything in its place’ is built on this organization principle. But organization skills do not have to be exorbitant to be helpful. Spending five minutes organizing one’s desk or medicine cabinet can improve efficiency, memory and possibly reduce stress levels too.

A related activity, re-arrangement, also helps our brains strengthen spatial and visual connections. For instance, by re-arranging furniture in your living spaces on an occasional basis, the brain must re-map neural connections to assist us in navigating the new floor space and layout. Something as simple as moving a trash can from one location to another, requires our brains to re-map circuitry (memory and movement) as we must now navigate to a new location to throw away a piece of litter. Taking a different route home (on foot or in our vehicle) provides a similar benefit.

It doesn’t require much, except may a little creativity on our part, to change the scenery in which we reside and navigate. Kitchen cabinets, pantries, desks, counters and backyard walkways all provide ample opportunities for us to challenge and improve our brain’s neural pathways.

Remember, brainpower increases and improves when we build novelty into our regular activity patterns. When we do familiar things in unfamiliar ways we wake up nerve cells which in turn increases blood flow to make these new connections for our brain cells. A little change goes a long way.


Mix it Up…for Brain Power

As a personal trainer, I often advise my clients to mix up their exercise routines to keep their muscles and their mind challenged. Science has taught us that regular bouts of exercise produce adaptations in the neural connections between our brain and muscles. And we easily recognize these adaptations when we become stronger and have improved aerobic endurance. But even these improvements plateau if we do not mix things up in our activity routines every once in a while.

So how do we overcome plateaus? We overcome plateaus by disrupting our regular routines. Planned, purposeful disruption is strong medicine for creating healthy neural pathways. By adding something new to our exercise or movement routines, we create opportunities for our brains to adapt (reroute and rewrite neural pathways) when we integrate novel movement patterns into our daily activities.

For example, one thing I always suggest my clients do to improve their balance is to switch sides when engaging in routine daily activities. In other words, I encourage them to use their non-dominant hands or legs. If you are right hand dominant, try using your left hand once a day to brush your teeth, write your name or use your computer mouse. Likewise, notice which leg you tend to put into your pants first when you dress…then switch it up once in a while. Making these simple changes recruits and strengthens NEW neural connections.

If switching sides feels awkward or uncomfortable, that is normal, and the
reason we feel ‘off balance’ when we use our non-dominant limbs to do everyday activities is because we have, by years and years of preference, created a strong neural pathway (preference), and this preference is now COMFORTABLE. But from my perspective, comfortable equates to easy which equates to weakness which equates to imbalance; and imbalance is almost always a foundation not only for injury but also for illness. So remember, once in a while, a purposeful disruption needs to be introduced into your day. I hope you will have fun with this and choose to engage in some practical disruption soon. It’s good for your brain. It’s good for your body!

This is the first post in the brain power series. If you want to learn about more ways to improve your brain power, then follow my blog and have notification of my posts sent directly to your email.

The Ripple Effect


The other day I came across a news item in Runner’s World had which told the story of one man’s determination to finish a 5K race every month in 2015. The story began with Derek Mitchell’s last place finish at the Kansas City Big 12 5K. Some folks might not be so keen to have this sort of story told about themselves. But for Derek Mitchell, he’s a man on the move…a man who currently weighs in around 570 pounds. He was tempted to quit before he completed the first mile, but he kept his mental focus on his goal…crossing the finish line.

Derek’s story reminded me of so many things that are important to keeping us on track when we set our sights on a future goal. But two things seemed most critical: practice (training) for the race event and having a support system (family, friends, peers). These two components can be boiled down to one element: Accountability.

Practice that perfects our ability involves deliberate intention…in other words ACTION is required. And purposeful action engenders accountability. In Derek’s case, he let the world-wide community know about his intentions and his monthly goal. That is a bold, brave and effective strategy for him to embrace; but this is a behavior which all true goal seekers intuitively perform.

Additionally, when we make ourselves accountable to another or to others, we certify and solidify for ourselves our intentions. But there is a bonus effect…a ripple effect if you will. When we engage others in our goal setting, we have the potential to inspire those with whom we have gathered around our plan. Sometimes those inspired are curious onlookers or strangers, as in Derek’s case. Sometimes those inspired are family members, co-workers, or friends. Most times though, we never know who will be caught up in our momentum and motivated to implement similar goals for themselves.

Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action-takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions. John Di Lemme

In physics there is a law of conservation of energy which states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another. If energy conservation is real in the physical world, it is also true in the unseen world of the body/mind/spirit. If we consider that energy is changed from one form to another (from thought to physical action), then we realize that our physical action activates changes not only in ourselves (body/mind/spirit), but our energies also radiate to those whom we encounter in route to our goal.

Consider the ripple effect a gentle breeze has upon those things within its path. We see its consequence when we watch leaves, twigs, brush and bramble dance across open ground in the presence of this invisible energy source. Likewise, as we move with intention towards our goals, we transform energy from thought to body, from invisible to visible. Not only do we propel ourselves toward our intended goals but others may be moved by our energy in the ripple and wake of our efforts…sometimes so much so that they are caught up with us in our vision.

Whether seen or unseen, our intentional energies have the potential to transform not only our lives but also the lives of others; and this begins with every determinate act we make towards the finish line.