A Journey to Renew My Mind, Body, Spirit

23 08 2013

Looking back at last month, my mind had been preoccupied with work and the realization that I was leaving the country to explore a place unfamiliar to me. The weeks leading up to my trip to Spain was filled with mixed emotions. Questions that plagued my mind at night included, what should I bring, how will I navigate with only my wife versed in the language, what neat and amazing things will we experience, and how will I keep up with my exercises. I had been so busy with my work that when the month prior to leaving snuck up on me, I was flabbergasted by how quick two years had gone by since my wife and I had started talking about taking this trip. Although, I hadn’t a clue where I was going (I left it up to my wife to choose the itinerary for the whole trip) and I didn’t know what to expect, I knew that I was going to take some time to renew my mind, body, and spirit.

New Day in Madrid

Landing into Madrid, Spain as the sun rose from behind the mountains.

The trip began with the appreciation of  how quickly the human mind can adapt. Typically, I am a person who needs to know enough about my surroundings to feel competent and confident so I can interact with people.  I’m an extravert and human interaction is necessary. This journey took my out of that comfort zone and thew me into the great unknown. I was a man in a large country that spoke a language that was not familiar to me. Renew my mind might be the incorrect choice of words; more like enlighten my mind. My brain became a sponge and I soaked up as much of the language as I could possible retain in one sitting. My appreciation for the history and culture of the land and people was overwhelming. I became obsessed with the history and culture of the little towns and provinces that my wife and I visited. Each day we would explore a new area of the country and spend hours taking in the beauty and magnitude of our natural surroundings. I would work on the language everywhere we went and slowly was able to speak to someone patient residents. We learned why the villages were erected in specific ways, how the locals ate, and how the landscape had changed over time. We also experienced first hand the slow pace of life when the only form of transportation were your very own two legs.

At the top of Picos de Europa with a mountain goat.

At the top of Picos de Europa with a mountain goat.

The time spent walking and carrying my hiking pack gave me all the exercise I needed for the time I was gone. My body felt well worked by the end of the trip. The people in Spain normally take a siesta during the middle of the day. I don’t know why my wife and I didn’t follow suit, but by the time midnight came around and all the people of Spain came pouring out of their homes and restaurants for their “happy hour,” my wife and I were nicely tucked under our covers in our nice cozy beds. The feeling of fatigue doesn’t usually hit your muscles all at once. No, it enjoys creeping up slowly, toying with your body as to say, “you never know when I’ll put a stop to all your movement.” That came around lunch time one afternoon in Segovia after we had walked all over the village and seen the Alcazar, our bodies had started to let us know that we needed to rest and replenish our nutrients. We happily gave in to this respite at a mom and pop restaurant where I learned more Spanish because the hosts could not speak English and we were able to get all the nutrients that we needed for the next long trek on our journey. Traveling on foot gave us great pleasure in seeing the sites that would have been missed by taking a car or public transportation. (Traveler’s note: If you ever go to Spain, keep hydrated. The dry air and changes in altitude can be deceiving to your perception of thirst.  Plan on buying all your water or bring a couple of water bottles, as we did, and fill them up at the local watering holes.)

Wife getting water at a water hole on the outskirts of the village in Segovia.

My wife testing out a water hole on the outskirts of the village in Segovia.

Many of our stops along the way brought us to magnificent churches, cathedrals, and basilicas. The history of each one and the famous artists who helped create these masterpieces entranced my spirit and gave me much appreciation of life’s great gifts.  The architecture and structures found inside and out were amazing. The commitment found throughout these structures exemplified that nothing spectacular can ever be done quickly. Success is only possible, when one has a plan, support, dedication, and time. In the end, I was blown away by the sheer beauty and awe of everything that I saw, experienced, and learned.

Catedral de Santa María de Regla de León

Catedral de Santa María de Regla de León

As I reflect on the trip, I also reflect on the lessons that were gained from all that I had seen. We as individuals need to step back and take in all the accomplishments that we have made in our lives. Too often we are pushed to get things done as quickly as possible. We are becoming a society where instantaneous gratification is more favorable than the long haul even if the latter is stated to be healthier.  This journey made me realize the importance of taking my time and enjoying life’s every moment. By the end of the trip, I was able to come back to my life’s routine with a refreshed perspective on what I want to achieve and how it will look getting there. Remember that a journey is defined as the act of traveling from one place to another. Don’t lose sight of the end, and always keep your eyes open on the journey.

Wrong Way? No, Just Different

13 03 2013

Not Always Wrong, Just Different

If you’ve had an experience where you thought you were doing something, like eating a certain food or dressing a certain way, but then saw people doing it another way and thought you were actually doing it wrong, don’t worry, you’re not alone. However, sometimes a different way might not be the wrong way, but exactly the former; just a different way. Who says that a turkey burger can’t be a breakfast item or that everyone should drive a BMW? Societal norms influence us to think that we all have the same needs. On the contrary, we all need to pay attention to our individual needs to maintain good health.

In 2007, Wesley Shultz et al conducted a field experiment testing whether normative messaging (telling people to practice a certain behavior based on what others are doing) would have mixed success rates in behavior change. They saw that when told to use more energy saving products because a specific number of others were doing it, the number of people converting to energy conservatives increased. Yes, energy conservation is ideal and we would all want to promote this type of habit, but the mere fact that it only took one little message stating that more people were practicing one certain behavior to have the minority feel like they were wrong and change their lifestyle is fascinating. A key point to this case is that in order to see a shift in the masses, the group must be  a minority, hence, the difficulty of getting our overweight country to get back down to a healthy weight (69.2% of adults in US overweight/obese). Yet again, why should we be like everyone else?

When dealing with exercise, we must look at performing a task with blinders on. Not one person is alike and thus not one specific regimen will work for everyone.  The National Academy of  Sports Medicine has a training model that is different than that of the American Council on Exercise. Is one of them wrong and the other right? Absolutely not, because both will reach the same result in the end, although both use different pathways. The same goes when I am asked which one is better for getting toned arms, free weights or machines? Both are two different modalities that lead to the right direction to get lean arms.

The right answer to improving your health is not to follow the yellow brick road that everyone else has followed, but to lay each stone in front of you and test the ground supporting it to determine if it will work for you. So the next time you’re scratching your head wondering if the person next to you is doing it right and you should follow suit, ask yourself if you are still improving your health with what you’re currently doing. If so, then embrace the difference and continue to tread through the unbeaten path to success.


American Council on Exercise: IFT Model
CDC Faststats: Overweight and obesity http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm
National Academy of Sports Medicine: OPT Model
Shultz, P. W. et al. The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms. Psychological Science, 18(5) 429-434. 2007 

Think Healthy, Think Money

13 02 2013

We all want to be rich. Then there are some of us who would prefer to be wealthy. If you don’t know the difference, I suggest reading “The Millionaire Next Door” by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. But regardless if you want to be rich or wealthy, you must do one of two things; either learn how to earn it if you aren’t there, or learn how to keep it if you are there. Ask both sides and they will tell you that it’s difficult to uphold both ends of the statement if you are not willing to motivate yourself and work hard.

Even though it is hard to save money, many of us are so driven that we do everything we can to grow our bank accounts. We stop purchasing expensive products, we go to fewer movies, we find cheaper alternatives, and we slowly put money into our savings account until we are happy with how much we have in it. We don’t end up with $20,000 in a week, but over a period of time with little investments (depending on how much you invest into the account), we notice the large sum of money that has accumulated and we are thrilled with success.

I use this example because the same can be said with our health and the steps needed to accomplish our wellness goals. However, the majority of us don’t treat our bodies like a savings account. We expect our bodies to work miracles and in the end of the week have a body like the models and stars we see in magazines and in the media. Side note: Most actors and actresses will work with a trainer between three to six months, six to seven days a week, to get their bodies in the shape needed to perform their roles; not to mention hiring a personal chef, and dietitian. The way we stay or become healthy should follow the same plan as how we grow our bank accounts. Place importance on our wealth (health); find out ways to save our wealth (health); and slowly invest our money (time) to see our wealth (health) grow.

Wealth for HealthFollowing these simple steps will improve your overall health (and wealth) if you take the time to commit to it. Saving your health can be as easy as saving your money, but know that to do so, you must find the importance of why you’re doing it and become motivated in its returns to be successful.

Stretching-The Truth

14 04 2012

If you grew up in the 80’s, then you would remember Gumby and Stretch Armstrong.  Although these characters posses inhuman characteristics, such as no bones, that allows their limbs and bodies to rotate, flex, and extend beyond what’s humanly possible, we should not take our flexibility for granted. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than one million people sustain a back injury every year at work. In the US alone, over six million (that’s 6,000,000!) people require medical attention due to a fracture. Fractures, broken bones, sprains, strains, and even the common back injury are caused by exceeding one’s range of motion (ROM) limits. The previously mentioned characters proved to the world that being flexible could be a great asset.

Every time I speak at a seminar on the topic of stretching I like to first start by asking the audience to throw out some information that they know or heard about stretching. The following are some responses:

  • Stretching is for athletes only
  • Bouncing gives me a better stretch
  • All I need to do is hold a stretch for a few seconds
  • The more pain, the better the stretch

My next slide I present after I ask the previous question shows some myths about stretching and I always get a couple of people taking in their breath or being surprised that their answers are on this slide. It happens all the time. That’s because too many sources are giving people contradictory information. Therefore, they’re left confused, which leads to dropping the stretch component of their workout, and ultimately sustaining an injury because their ROM is very limited. That’s why, I want to debunk what people have heard over the years in magazines, on television, and from friends. This way, you can walk away from this article knowing that you’ll move forward towards your goals without any limitations or severe setbacks.

To begin understanding the possibilities of our human bodies, we must first ask why. Why do we stretch? I know this might sound elementary, but do you really know why you’re stretching? The most common and sometimes only response that I get from the audience is: “to prevent injuries.” This is great! We know of only one reason why we stretch. The main reasons we stretch:

  1. To improve flexibility and ROM
  2. Increase blood circulation
  3. Obtain normal muscle length
  4. And through all of the above, the resulting benefit is injury prevention

Let’s go a little deeper to understand what each of these mean. Flexibility and range of motion (ROM) are the ability to move a body part in one direction through its limit . Flexibility and ROM are used interchangeably. The more flexible you are, the greater the ROM of that body part. As you move your body through its ROM, more blood is supplied to those muscles allowing for contractions, therefore, increasing the blood circulation within your body. We will touch on reason number three  later. So when all parts come together, the body will be more limber and thus injuries will be fewer.

Now that you know why you’re stretching, knowing what kinds of stretches to do before and after you exercise is important. That’s right, the stretches that you do before and after are different. Stretches that you do after your warm up and before you exercise should be dynamic stretches. A quick note before describing dynamic stretches. A warm up is needed to increase your body’s core temperature and move more blood to the muscles that will be used in the exercise. Dynamic stretches should be done after a warm up to prevent injury. These stretches are called dynamic because they are done by moving your body through a full range of motion for a number of repetitions. Dynamic stretches include; head circles, arm circles, trunk rotations, high knees, and butt kicks. These stretches are to prepare the muscles and joints for their movements within the exercise routine.

The other type of stretching which should be done at the end of a workout after the cool down is called static stretching and this is the most common type that people know. I have provided a routine of static stretches that you can do at the end of your exercise and even at the end of the day to keep your body flexible. I mention at the end of the day because even though you are not exercising, you are contacting your muscles throughout the day to do your lifestyle activities. It is important to do some static stretches at the end of the day to allow your muscles to return to their normal lengths and not wake up tight or stiff in the morning.  Never do static stretches in the morning or before you warm up. Pulling your muscles while they’re “cold” can lead to tears in the muscle or tendon. Also, only stretch to the point where you feel a little pull on your muscles. The name of the game is not to experience excessive amount of pain. Ever stretch a rubber band too far? If you remember what happened to that rubber band, know that your muscles are essentially rubber bands too. Too far too soon can cause that muscle or tendon to pull away from the attachment site. The myth that you should bounce while doing stretches is another fatality waiting to happen. Just like stretching too far, jerking on a muscle can cause as much damage to the muscle. The reason ballistic (bouncing) stretches are done is to allow athletes who’s main purpose is to warm up their legs to jump high.  So when you perform these stretches, use slow, controlled movements.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends stretching two to three days a week (however, stretching daily saw greater improvements); holding for a count of 15-60 seconds for each static stretch; and performing two to three sets. Dynamic stretches should be done  for 8-10 repetitions.  Following this routine will reduce your risk of injury and improve your quality of life. Who knows, eventually you might be like Gumby and have no problem touching your feet without bending your legs.

Static Stretch Routine
Perform these stretches after you exercise and at the end of the day to keep your body limber and protect yourself from injury. Perform two sets, holding for 30-60 seconds for each stretch.

1. Foward Neck Stretch – (Neck)
Sitting up tall, lower your chin down toward your chest and hold the position.

2. Side Neck Stretch – (Neck)
Sitting up tall, lower your ear to the same side of your shoulder without lifting your shoulder or rotating your head. Place your hand on top of the ear to hold the head in position without pulling more than your neck can tolerate. Switch sides after each set.

3. Arm Across Chest – (Shoulders, Biceps)
Sitting up tall, place one arm across your chest and keep it straight. Place the other hand above the elbow of the crossed arm to keep it in position. Relax the wrist and allow the stretched arm to straighten to stretch the biceps. Do not hyperextend at the elbow. Switch arms after each set.

4. Chest Stretch – (Chest, Shoulders)
 Sitting on a mat with your knees bent , place the soles of your feet on the mat. Place your hands on the mat behind your body with your fingers pointing forward and bend your elbows. Slowly move your butt toward your feet to stretch your chest and shoulders.

5. Child’s Pose – (Back, Shoulder)
Kneel on a mat and place your rear on your heels. Slowly lower your upper torso towards the ground and place your arms outstretched by your head. Place your head on a pillow if it cannot relax on the ground. 

6. Prone Quadriceps Stretch – (Quadriceps)
Lie on your stomach and extend your legs straight. Have your hands at your side and rest your head downward or turned to the side. Lift one heel up toward your butt and using the same side hand, hold the foot or ankle and slowly pull the heel in closer. If you cannot reach your foot, grab a belt and loop it around your foot and hold the other end of the belt strap.

7. Hamstrings and Calf Stretch – (Hamstrings, Calf, Lower Back)
Sitting with your legs extending on the mat, bring one foot up and place the sole on the inside of your other thigh. Flex the outstretched foot back and slowly reach down towards that foot. If you can’t grab the foot, use a belt and hold the strap while looping the other side around your foot.

8. Glute Stretch – (Glutes, IT Band, Lower Back)
In the same position as the last stretch, cross the bent leg over the straight leg and place your opposite hand on the knee of the bent leg. Rotate your body towards the bent leg and hold.

ACSM ‘S Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 8th ed.  (2010), Flexibility Exercise. 172
ACSM’S Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 5th ed. (2006). Principles of Musculoskeletal Exercise Programming: Neuromuscular Consideration. 362
LiveStrong.Com http://www.livestrong.com/article/276514-range-of-motion-of-the-spine/
MayoClinic.com (2010), Stretching: Focus on Flexibility. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stretching/HQ01447
National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey & American Academy of Orthopaedic