Slow breathing way to relax

For a process which starts at birth and is life long, we pay very little attention to the way we breathe.

Breathing is nature's aid conditioning system. As air passes through the nose or mouth on its way to the lungs, it is cleaned and either cooled or heated. Usually people breathe through their noses, or they should. But a quick trip up a flight to stairs demands more oxygen, so the mouth takes over.

Breathing is intimately related to our emotional state. When frightened, excited, or angry, breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. Under severe pressure, we tend to hold our breath, defeating the natural need for more, not less air. In other circumstances, we modify our breathing pattern to yawn with boredom, sigh with sadness or laugh with delight.

Physically active people or people who meditate are able to control their breathing. Each activity/relaxation session is an opportunity to consciously or subconsciously practice proper breathing. Take a minute to find out how you breathe. Put one hand over your chest, the other over your stomach. People breathe through their chest, stomach, or a combination of both. In general, chest breathing is associated with tension or stress. Conversely, abdominal breathing is a recognized way to induce relaxation and calm nerves.

Count the number of breaths completed in one minute. Improved breathing through physical activity and relaxation can reduce the rate to less than four breaths per minute in a relaxed state. Moderately vigorous physical activity will strengthen the muscles associated with breathing and increase the flexibility of the rib cage.

The result is an improved and increaased breathing capacity. Slowly fill your stomach, then your chest with air by breathing through your nose. Exhale slowly in reverse fashion. This relaxation breathing will help you relax in any situation. If you feel the need to relax, your own breath, not a pill, may be the answer.

Notion about weight lifting is incorrect

Just when i thought misconceptions about physical fitness were starting to fade into the sunset, I'm jolted back to reality like a plunge into ice cold water.

It occurred when a physician stated on a popular morning radio show that when someone stops lifting weights, the muscle developed turns into fat.

The statement was false. It is physically impossible for muscle to turn into fat. The factors controlling body fat and muscle tone are completely different.

But the statement did manage to add fuel to yet another fitness fallacy and in all likelihood discourage someone from improving their body through weight related exercises.

Weight lifting is an Olympic sport. Weight training is an appropriate and beneficial part of any well balanced fitness program. The training may involve chopping wood, pushing a lawn mower or lifting light weights, but the benefits trimmer muscles are practically the same.

For the same reason, sit ups (always keep your knees bent) tone stomach muscles, but do nothing to help you lose fat. To lose fat, use your time to walk around the block and develop a sound eating plan.

Even lifting weights does not necessary mean you will develop big muscles. Endurance exercises and activities actually promote both fat loss and muscle tone. Hormonal differences naturally protect women from increases in muscle size. The recent popularity of weight training among women attests to this fact.

Weight training has been a mystery to many. Your best ally will always be knowledge based on fact and experience.

Here are tips to avoid cold related injuries

If you are going outdoors, dress properly for the severe cold, says Dr. Ernest Ruiz, chief of emergency medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

People should wear several layers of clothing and cover their ears and hands, he said. It is better to wear mittens than gloves.

"The face should be covered as much as feasible if you are going to be in the wind," he said. Headwear is important because people can lose a lot of heat through their scalp.

Avoid overexertion. Damp, sweaty clothing loses its capacity to insulate.

Drinking alcohol can be dangerous: A person can feel warm, even though body temperature falls below normal.

If you suffer frostbite, go to a hospital and get warmed, Ruiz said. There, proper fluids and medications can limit the severity and pain of an injury.

When driving through rural areas, put extra clothing, a blanket and snacks in your car. If the car breaks down, remain inside. "It is easy to get hypothermic and lose your way," Ruiz said.

Ken Mohr of the Automobile Club of Minneapolis had advice to keep cars starting in the cold: Park it in a garage or use a tank or block heater, if possible. If it's left outside, park it out of the wind, and start it every four or five hours. Let it run 10 or 15 minutes until it reaches operating temperatures.

Activity helps to handle stress

Stress, whether a result of personal, family or work life, can be brought under control with a self prescription of the right kind of physical activity.

It's just as effective as Valium; not a drug, inexpensive and a positive addiction.

Activity, with the aim of dissipating stress, is as important as eating less is to dieting.

The key is neither how much activity nor its nature, but the intensity. Only if the activity is intense and physical enough to block out all thoughts but those related to the activity, will stress be dissipated.

It's not hard. A friend recently reported to me that she went jogging, not with her usual purpose of getting fit, losing fat or toning leg muscles, but to release tension resulting from a very intense evening of bridge! Obviously traditional relaxation exercises are not intense or physical enough to dissipate stress effectively.

Many activities are by nature, or can be modified to be, good stress release activities. Once the stress has been dissipated, you will be able to relax, feel better about yourself and the source of the stress.

It is recognized that the greater one's repertoire of stress coping techniques, the better. Here are just a few examples of stress release and relaxation activities: Stress release activities Squash, running, raquetball, jogging, hockey, brisk walking, hammering, dancing, chopping wood, making love, walking up stairs, Renovating. Relaxation Activities Reading, easy dancing, kite flying, easy walking, meditation, resting, yoga, easy jogging, sauna, easy swimming.

A few seasonal fitness goodies

The questionnaire I presented a couple of weeks ago brought in a flood of responses. The people who had the most wrong answers will receive their booklets first. The rest will get theirs as numbers allow.

Here, for those of you who want to be in the know and have a few fitness goodies up your sleeve for the annual Christmas party circuit, are the answers :
  1. True: A fitness program that works should reflect a person's lifestyle, personality and physical status. It's an ever changing phenomenon.
  2. A well balanced physical fitness program contains six basic elements. Three are fat control, relaxation and stress release. The other three are cardiovascular fitness, muscle tone and flexibility. From these six fitness factors every known physical benefit of physical activity can be derived.
  3. With regular physical activity of the same kind you can expect your pulse rate to decrease. A decreased pulse rate is an indication of increased heart efficiency the ability to do the same work with less effort.
  4. Weight scales are not a reasonable way to measure changes in body fat. A person can lose fat and gain weight. A tape measure, suit size or skin caliper is much better.
  5. False. Sit ups are not an effective way to trim fat from your stomach. Walking and other whole body activities are much better.
  6. True. Activities such as cycling, skating and renovating can be as effective as an exercise routine.
  7. False. Harder is not better. If you hurt during or after physical activity, you are doing something wrong probably exercising too much.
  8. False. If a woman lifts light weights or does vigorous exercises, she will probably get big muscles. It seems like this fallacy, according to the answers I received, has finally been laid to rest.
  9. Physical activity should be a daily experience. The key is not how much or hard, but how often. Be sure to like what you do.
  10. Physical and nutritional fitness are related all the time. You can't have one without the other. Next week: Annual review of fitness presents.

Healthy snacks have their place

Snacking has finally attained respectability, as evidenced by this month's slogan coined by the Canadian Dietetic Association for Nutrition Month.

It wasn't long ago that snacking of any kind was frowned upon by all health care professionals. Many thought that if they ignored or condemned snacking often and long enough, it would go away. It didn't.

There is at least one occasion when snacking is good for you. That's when it is the alternative to eating nothing at all. I've often been told by clients that they proudly skip breakfast or lunch to go for a workout instead.

Skipping meals can have long term metabolic effects which are at least unpleasant and possibly dangerous. Research has shown that people who eat small meals (another name for a snack) frequently actually consume less than those who eat one or two large meals. If you go for long periods of time without eating, you are making yourself vulnerable to diabetes, obesity and the result of having to cope with stress on an empty stomach.

So snacking may not be as healthy as sitting down to a well balanced meal, but it's a lot better than not eating at all.

Here are some snack combinations which are simple, easy to prepare, and nutritionally balanced. They were prepared by a dietitian for Nutrition Month.
  • Fresh fruit, whole wheat crackers, cheese, thick slices of cucumber, milk.
  • Homemade granola, milk or plain yogurt.
  • Cottage cheese with green pepper and tomato slices, bran muffin.
  • Fresh fruit, plain yogurt.
  • Celery stuffed with peanut butter, whole wheat crackers, split pea soup with milk, fresh fruit.
  • Left over meat loaf in a sandwich, green pepper slices, fresh fruit, yogurt.
  • Hearty beef vegetable soup in a thermos, fruit nut bread, milk.
  • Four bean salad, celery sticks stuffed with cheese, banana muffin, fresh fruit, milk.
  • Left over macaroni and cheese in a plastic container, shredded cabbage mixed with oil and vinegar and seasoned with basil, fresh fruit, milk.
  • The message that dietetians from coast to coast are trying to get across to Canadians this month is that if you are going to snack, do it right. In their words "Grab a bite that's right".