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Archive for June, 2017

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As I see people strenuously doing crunches and sit-ups at the gym, alone and with trainers, here is the case made by Harvard Medical School’s Focus on Fitness e-newsletter: yoga planks are good for core fitness, sit-ups and crunches are not good for the back.

A decade ago, sit-ups and grunting crunches were the standard for tight abs and slim waistlines. But research has proven that they are not effective and may actually cause harm. The repeated sit-ups push the curved spine against the floor with pressure causing damage to the compressed discs in the small of the back. Dr. Stuart McGill’s (known for his expertise on the back) work suggests that in some people the crunches may cause herniated discs.

Sit-ups can tug on tight hip flexors that are engaged in the movement–hip flexors are muscles that run from the thighs to the lumbar vertebrae. This results in lower back pain and discomfort.

Abdominal muscles are just a small group of core muscles. So using just a small group means the rest of the muscles are not worked.

Planks do not wear and tear the vertebrae. They also engage many more muscles–on the front, sides, and back. So they strengthen the whole torso, not just the abs.

In BBC’s Future series article, The surprising downside of sit-ups, a 2011 Illinois study had one group do daily sit-ups for six weeks and the control group did none. The sit-ups  made no difference to waist size or the abdominal fat!

The BBC article states: “Research published in 2005 on soldiers stationed at the US military’s Fort Bragg attributed 56% of all the injuries sustained during the two-yearly Army Physical Fitness Test to sit-ups.”

One study suggests that it is not the wear and tear on the discs but genetics that predispose some people to back injury more than others.

Readers may also want to look at a previous post on this blog from November 7, 2011:

https://yogamedblog.wordpress.com/tag/stuart-mcgill/

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The relaxation response triggered by yoga and meditation counters the stress response. When the mind-body has repeated experiences of stress, the stress response triggers faster as a survival mechanism and the stress hormones, over time, cause health problems. Stress may contribute to, or exacerbate, some of these familiar health problems:

anxiety * arthritis * constipation * depression * diabetes * headaches * heart problems * heartburn * infectious diseases such as colds and herpes * insomnia * irritable bowel syndrome * backaches, joint aches, abdominal pain * PMS * ulcers

This is now widely accepted knowledge as I am learning in the Mind-Body Medicine: The New Science of Optimal Health by Professor Jason M. Satterfield Ph.D (Great Courses from The Teaching Company).  The stress response is well-explained in the following excerpt from:

Now and Zen: How mindfulness can change your brain and improve your health Longwood Seminars, March 8, 2016 Content provided by Harvard Health Publications health.

Collectively, the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands make up the HPA axis, which plays a pivotal role in triggering the stress response. The hypothalamus sends a chemical messenger (corticotropinreleasing factor, or CRF) to the nearby pituitary gland, which then releases its own chemical messenger (adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH) into the bloodstream. ACTH travels to the adrenal glands, which respond by releasing a number of stress hormones into the bloodstream. At the same time, the sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones, too. The combined effects of these hormones are widespread…Senses become sharper, muscles tighten, the heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, and breathing quickens. All of this prepares you to fight or flee in the face of danger. Simultaneously, the hypothalamus fires up the autonomic nervous system.

Yoga and meditation activate the relaxation response through the parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts the overactive sympathetic nervous system. (This has finally become mainstream and is no longer “fringe medicine”!) Stress hormones such as cortisol are reduced. Blood pressure may drop, heart beat slows down, breathing is slower, the muscles relax.

Along with life style changes, cultivating positive behaviors, and improved diets, yoga and meditation offer very cost-effective ways to significantly improve health outcomes. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is also found to be effective, but it can be very expensive.

For a study at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (see the link above), two groups were studied: long-term practitioners of yoga, meditation, and repetitive prayers and a group with no prior experience of these techniques. The novice group was taught a 20-minutes sequence with diaphragmatic breathing, body scan, mantra repetition, and mindfulness. Blood samples were taken from both groups to examine gene activity–specifically on how the body deals with free radicals.

The long-term practitioners had the most significant positive change and the novice group saw some positive change after eight weeks of practice. However, this effect is not long-term, suggesting that like physical exercise, the relaxation response needs to be triggered regularly. Yoga, meditation, prayers, need to be part of a regular routine.

I have two links to free audio tracks (diaphragmatic breathing and body scan) for readers of this blog who may want to start a regular practice.

 

 

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