Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tai Chi Tuesday: Boost Your Brain Power

From the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, December 2012:

To boost your brain power, do tai chi. So suggests a study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, which included 120 healthy older people in China.
Those who practice this "moving meditation" techniques three times a week for 40 weeks shows increases in brain volume, as seen on MRI, as well as improvements on several tests of memory and learning, compared to those not doing the exercise who had normal age-related brain shrinkage.  
Previous research has shown that aerobic activity is good for the brain, but this study suggests that a more gentle form of exercise is also beneficial.
Another benefit of tai chi: it improves balance and decreases the risk of falls. 
The International Taoist Tai Chi Society can help you find instructors and classes in your area.

For those who can't easily make it to class: consider using a DVD at home. E-mail me for some suggestions.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Water: Drink it Up

Pour yourself a glass or cup of water and drink it. Now, ask yourself: what did you just do?

Probably one of the best things you can do for your body, second to sleep.

Yes, drinking water is all that. Want to lose weight? Feel less fatigued and cranky? Be more alert at work and school? Prevent disease? Water helps with all that.

Doctors agree. According to WebMD, the body is about 60 percent water, and drinking water helps regulate the balance of just about every organ. Avoid muscle cramps by staying hydrated, doctors suggest, and keep your skin looking and feeling fresh and moisturized. 

Sometimes fatigue or bad moods can be alleviated with a dose of water. The brain is about 75 percent water (by weight), so replenishing water in the brain can help you feel better.

Water consumption also helps us regulate the amount of empty calories consumed in sugary drinks: choose water and save a few hundred calories a day you might have wasted on soda, sweetened fruit drinks (or tea) and other beverages.

In fact, if you read the nutritional values on processed drinks (including tea and sports drinks), you might be surprised at how many calories you're adding to your diet. A soda can have about 100 calories for every cup, which translates to 250 calories for a "single serving" bottle. Even those not counting calories or trying to lose weight should be aware of their food and drink intake. 

The Discovery Health Channel reminds readers to pay attention to your body to make sure you know if you've had enough water. If you feel thirsty or your urine is darker than pale yellow, you may need to take a drink. The old adage of eight glasses of water a day is a good rule, but not iron-clad. Don't over-hydrate, which also is dangerous — but don't underestimate your water needs. 

(While you're at it, save the environment: choose refillable sports bottles or aluminum bottles, so less goes into the landfill or recycling bin, or use the old-fashioned glass or cup at home or the office.)

Can you drink other fluids to rehydrate? Sure, but plain water is plentiful, readily available and pours out of the tap and water fountain at no additional cost.  

How else do you think water benefits your body?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tai Chi Tuesday: Plan for World Tai Chi Day April 27, 2013

Plan for World Tai Chi and Qigong Day April 27
Image courtesy International Kaplan Wing-Chun Academy

Join millions of fellow tai chi enthusiasts in celebrating World Tai Chi and Qigong Day in 2013. This year, the event will be held April 27.

Check back here for what is happening in the metropolitan Washington area, or check with your local tai chi center to see what's going on in your neighborhood.

World Tai Chi and Qigong Day is held on the last Saturday of April. Click here for information on the global movement.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tai Chi Tuesday: Avoid Winter Freeze with Tai Chi

Tai Chi Helps Beat Winter Freeze
Beijing, 18 March 2012: a boy practices tai chi beside snow-covered trees.
(Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

When the weather gets cold, warm-blooded animals tend to hibernate. Avoid growing too sedentary this winter by practicing tai chi.

If the weather permits, consider spending some time outside. Even if it's a little chilly, you can reconnect with nature and re-charge your chi. Dress warmly and find a comfortable, safe location. 

If you stay inside, try to choose a location that will still allow you to see and appreciate the beauty of winter.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Eat First

I am taking a continuing education course on male body sculpting. The test will be based on a book written by a gentleman with an MD after his name.

The author had a recommendation for weight loss: if you work out in the morning, do not eat beforehand so you lose more fat.  He states that the body has to burn fat for energy in order to fuel the workout.

This is not a good idea.

I don't pretend to be more knowledgeable than a doctor. However, after a decade of personal training, I cannot vouch for that recommendation.

I never have to wonder if my early morning clients have eaten before their workout. I have had clients turn gray, get dizzy — one person even vomited. Each time I would say,  "Let me guess: you didn't eat this morning, did you?" In every instance, I got a nod of admission.

My experience has shown me the body cannot properly fuel a workout without nutrition. (There are a few exceptions to the rule, but very few.)

Even if you do manage to get through the workout, your not going to have enough intensity in the workout to get the full benefits you seek.

A study from Britain suggests there is only a difference of one-tenth of a pound between working out before breakfast or eating first. For that little a difference, don't risk illness and low energy.

Eat first: you will feel better. Even if breakfast is only a piece of toast and a banana.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tai Chi Tuesday: Single Drills for Push Hands Practice

Single Drills for Push Hands Practice

When we practice our tai chi form, we lead the chi through our movements for health and to get the feel for staying relaxed. Push hands practice allows us to practice these skills with a partner so we can test our combat techniques and even further hone our relaxation.

I have been lucky enough to learn some tips on push hands from a great teacher, even though I practiced with him for just a few minutes. I attempt to practice these skills every day with or without a partner.

What? Practice push hands without a partner? How can that be?

If we leave the context of the form for just a moment, push hands becomes a practice in redirecting an opponent's energy. If we feel the energy in our movements, we can prepare for push hand in our individual practice.

Start by raising your arms into hold the ball position (both arms are shoulder height and slightly curved). Imagine a partner in front of you.

Relax, inhale and sink your knees slightly, hollow your torso. Exhale and turn to the right leading from the dan tien — this will simulate intercepting a partners energy and redirecting it.

Practice this from the left.  Then practice with an elongation of the torso as well.

Remember to stay relaxed and keep in touch with your chi.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Don't Put Too Much Weight on BMI

Body mass index, or BMI, is an excellent indicator of body health. However, do not give that indicator more importance than it deserves: it is simply a risk factor evaluator.

Here's what that means: the higher your BMI, the more likely you are to have metabolic syndrome, whose risk factors include:

  • high blood pressure
  • elevated cholesterol
  • stress
  • obesity
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • type-2 diabetes
  • rheumatic diseases
  • poor blood circulation

BMI is a height-to-weight ratio. If you have particularly heavy bone density or you are well-muscled, the numbers are meaningless. 

There are a number of factors to take into account when determining health and fitness, including BMI. Taking all factors into account, not just BMI, will help you get a better picture of your health — and help you determine the best way to address your health and fitness needs.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tai Chi Tuesday: The Benefits of Tai Chi for COPD Patients

COPD Patients Find Benefit in Practicing Tai Chi

The medical and research establishments continue to reinforce what tai chi practitioners and advocates has known for centuries: tai chi is good for nearly everything that ails you. The latest research finds tai chi may be beneficial for adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Australian researchers found a 12-week modified Tai Chi training program helped adults with COPD to improve balance, muscular strength, exercise capacity and quality of life. These findings are published in the December 2012 issue of European Respiratory Journal.

The study author noted the importance of the muscle strength and balance:
Improvement in balance and muscle strength of the lower limbs is a very important in reducing the risk of falls for people with COPD, who are generally more at risk, as their balance tends to be worse than (that of) others in the same age group.

Plus, she added, "a very high percentage of the group really enjoyed Tai Chi."

No matter your age, fitness level or physical abilities, tai chi is an excellent form of exercise. Find a class and give it a try.