Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Achieving Good Health Through PNF

Flexibility exercises are essential in any fitness program. Stretching exercises are one of the easiest ways to improve flexibility of the body but they are one of the most underestimated parts of health and fitness. Flexibility made easy is the main aim of these exercises. There are different types of stretches and stretching exercises that can improve the flexibility almost immediately. Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF, is an advanced exercise for stretching the muscles that has been encouraged by many physical therapists. In addition to its health benefits, this kind stretching is necessary to achieve passive and dynamic flexibility for activities like martial arts, ballet, gymnastics, and many more.

PNF uses stretches that are designed to stretch reflex and lengthen reaction to gain a greater range of motion. It allows the muscles to be stretched to a greater degree by increasing the brain’s sensory receptor signals through a five to 10-second voluntary muscle contraction that can be followed by a five to 10-second voluntary muscle relaxation. With the hold-relax PNF method, the muscle is placed into a static stretch. Individuals who want to engage in this kind of training are encouraged to train with a partner. Holding and contracting the muscle against resistance from a partner for 10 seconds. Afterwards, relaxing while the partner moves the muscle to a new static position may be done. This technique can repeated for two to three times.

PNF stretches can put extra stress on specific muscle groups and therefore increase the risk of injury to the body's soft tissue areas. Individuals who want to engage in this kind of method are advised to include a conditioning phase in their training method. Warming up before stretching and cooling down afterwards may also help.

Advantages of Warming Up before PNF Stretching may include the following:

  • It gets your mind ready for exercise. Most sports require a great deal of mental focus. Stretching helps your mind shift from daily work mode into training mode.
  • It gets your body ready for exercise. Warming up means exactly what it says; you're warming the muscles gradually rather than plunging them into the shock of a workout.
  • Warming up increases your body's core temperature and in a way giving you a head start on your routine.
  • Warming up increases your body's muscle temperature. Warm muscles are limber, flexible muscles, less prone to ripping and tearing as they are when starting any physical activity cold.
Individuals who want to engage in PNF stretches are encouraged to train with skilled and experienced trainers to avoid injuries and other health complications. These trainers may design a program that may aid in one’s goal in improving one’s health. In addition to this, seeking the approval of doctors are also necessary, some conditions may hinder individuals from engaging in some stretches. Effective communication between health and fitness professionals are necessary to make flexibility training worthwhile, achieve its health benefits, and reduce the development of injuries. For this reason, exercisers should not only really on books, magazines, internet files, and many more.

Resource Box : Emmanuel Chavez is a sports writer and holds a graduate degree in

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Understanding and Preventing Muscle Cramps

We have been through this kind of condition, but athletes are more prone to it. As an athlete myself, I've accepted the fact that I can get this kind of pain one way or the other.

Muscle cramps is the dilemma of sports-minded and physically active individuals like me, because it may hamper their performance and cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Muscle cramp is a sudden and painful contraction of one or more muscles which may result to intense pain and inability to use the affected muscles. In some cases, there can be simultaneous cramps that move body parts in opposite directions. Muscle Cramps come from the vigorous use of muscles. Cramp can result when a muscle or group of muscles that acts together in the movement of a certain part of the body forcefully become involuntary. For example, athletes often complain of muscle cramps in calf muscles. But when it affects the feet, the group of muscles in the fingers too gets cramps.

Among the common causes of muscle cramps include dehydration or excessive loss of body fluid due to vigorous exercise or activities of the muscle; or a muscle fatigue caused mostly from a long rest period for muscles in one position or exertion of muscles leading to injury. In addition, it may also be the product of muscle diseases. It is not always necessary for the cramps to attack “over activated” muscles. In some cases, muscle cramps can attack even when the muscles are at rest or dormant for a very long time. For instance, sitting in the same position for a very long time can cause muscle fatigue and may later become a cramp. Most of the cramps come especially at night, like the cramps in the calf muscle. This last for some time till the bend muscles flex and relax.

Immediate rehydration is the primary treatment for muscle cramps. Health professionals often encourage the consumption of fluids which contain additional electrolytes to speed up recovery. This is because during intense physical activities, the body losses essential amounts of electrolytes that heightens the development of muscle cramps. After rehydration, further treatment may consist of grasping and applying pressure to the affected muscle and immediately putting the muscle at rest until the condition subsides.

Pre-workout activities like warming-up and stretching may also help. These activities may increase flexibility and improve blood flow which may prevent the occurrence of muscle cramps. Engaging in cool downs may greatly reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps. Spending about five minutes of brisk walking after a jog is an example of a cool down exercise. Don't include these five minutes in your exercise time. Using cold packs to reduce muscle tension or warm pads may also treat pain and tenderness that may accompany muscle cramps. Individuals who frequently experience cramps while sleeping should stretch before bedtime to prevent its nighttime cramps.

Those who frequently engage in sports activities and other strenuous activities are encouraged to train with health professionals or seek their approval to gain the benefit of this kind of training. Doctors and health professionals may device a program that may suit one’s physical needs. This is also essential in minimizing or reducing the occurrence of muscle cramps and other conditions that may hamper one’s health and athletic performance.

Resource box : Emmanuel Chavez is a sports writer and holds a graduate degree in
Sports Nutrition. He is active in promoting weight loss programs and healthy lifestyle among inner city youth.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Health Risks of Amenorrhea

Sports Nutrition. He is active in promoting weight loss programs and healthy lifestyle among inner city youth.

Exercise is basically important for our body and is a critical component of good health. As we all know, it is an esssential part of our lives, as it helps burns fat, boosts the metabolism, and improves circulation. Add to the fact that exercise may also prompt the body to produce endorphins, these are hormones that are said to be important in reducing stress, relieving anxiety, enhancing moods, and decreasing the perception of pain. However, there is a popular saying that too much of something can also be bad for us, in this case, exercise.

Engaging in excessive exercise may lead to overtraining and do more harm than good. This usually happens when we over exercise or overtrain. Overtraining is a condition that is caused by too much physical activity.

Recent medical studies suggest that female athletes who overtrain may develop amenorrhea, a condition which menstruation becomes absent. Amenorrhea may also become a risk factor for bone thinning and infertility. In addition, the risk of uterine cancer increases among women who frequently experience missed periods Several medical studies suggests that intense exercise associated with caloric restriction, low body fat, and a state of energy deficit, is most responsible for amenorrhea among female athletes. Female athletes who participate in rowing, long distance running, and cycling, may notice a few missed periods. Women athletes at a particular risk for developing amenorrhea include ballerinas and gymnasts, who typically exercise strenuously and eat poorly. Understanding this condition and knowing the symptoms that accompanies it, is essential in regaining regular periods and other health improvements.

Signs of over-training which may lead to amenorrhea may include the following:

  • missed or irregular menstrual periods
  • extreme thinness
  • extreme or rapid weight loss
  • extreme behaviors such as eating very little, not eating in front of others, and focus on low-calorie food
  • frequent and intense exercising (taking aerobics class followed by a five mile run, swimming for long hours, and weight-lifting
  • an “I can't miss a day of workout” attitude
  • anxious preoccupation with injuries
  • exercising despite illness, bad weather, injury and other conditions that may require resting
  • too much self-criticism or self-dissatisfaction
  • extreme anxiety and low self-esteem
  • fatigue
  • sleep difficulties
  • feeling cold most of the time
  • constant conversations about weight

The best way to avoid amenorrhea is to maintain a healthy lifestyle which includes making changes in one’s diet and exercising in moderation to achieve a healthy weight. Striving for a healthy balance between workouts and rest is also essential in preventing this condition from developing. Individuals who want to improve their health should bear in mind that the resting stage is as important as the training period. Because proper rest and recovery is a key component in preventing injuries and other conditions from occurring.

Female athletes who want to improve their athletic skills are encouraged to consult doctors and other health professionals for advice. These advice are important because a number of female athletes tend to exercise too much and deprive themselves of nutrients necessary for growth and development. Understanding proper workout and including a healthy diet in one's lifestyle may lead to improved health and overall well-being.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Post-traumatic Stress and the Military

A recent study published on the British Medical Journal website shows that there has been a threefold increase in cases of self-reported post-traumatic stress disorder of individuals who have been exposed on military combat. The study was conducted by a group of researchers in San Diego. The results of the study prompted certain individuals to criticize the impact of military deployment on one’s mental health.

A post–traumatic disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that can be triggered by an extremely stressful and shocking event. Individuals may experience this condition when a traumatic event happens or when a traumatic event happens to someone else. Some people who are involved in traumatic events or witness them often experience short periods of difficulty adjusting and coping. But with time, and some healthy coping methods, such traumatic reactions usually get better on their own. In some cases, though, the symptoms can get worse or last for months, or even years. Sometimes, they may even completely disrupt your life. In these cases, you may have post-traumatic stress disorder.

The San Diego reporters studied the effect of deployment on over 50,000 military personnel who were taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study – a 22-year study of the health of US military personnel. Data obtained between July 2001 and June 2003 shows that the participants who were surveyed showed signs and symptoms of post-traumatic disorder. Combat exposure was assessed by researchers as the primary cause of post-traumatic disorder among the personnel. The development of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms was measured using recognized criteria. The researchers also recorded significant information like cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking problems; these were also recorded.

The San Diego study shows that overall, new incidence rates of 10 to 13 cases per 1,000 persons a year, and suggest a threefold increase in the onslaught of self-reported post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or diagnoses among recently deployed military personnel with combat exposure.

In general, overall prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder in the US military is considered low. However, a significant number of new cases can be expected based on the number of service personnel deployed and exposed to military combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is important to identify the individuals who experience symptoms to prevent the development of more serious conditions.

The study is a reminder that military personnel, like us, are still human beings. They can also be vulnerable at times, despite their background and the training they have undergone. The debilitating effects of this condition can be prevented through extensive counseling. Popular methods are group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. Both these methods can be extremely effective in helping the sufferer understand and deal with the traumatic experience. They are generally performed or facilitated by a qualified therapist who is experienced in treating that type of trauma.

Many people tend to ignore the signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, either because they think it will go away with time or feel embarrassed to talk about it. However post-traumatic stress syndrome can quickly become unmanageable and take control of a person's life. It is important to seek professional help should you have these symptoms or have experienced a traumatic event recently.

Resource Box : Emmanuel Chavez is a sports writer and holds a graduate degree in Sports Nutrition. He is active in promoting weight loss programs and healthy lifestyle among inner city youth.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Being Obese Or Thin Linked To Mood Chemical Not Just Eating Habits

Researchers in the US investigating the effect of the nerve messenger and mood regulator serotonin on the energy metabolism of worms, found that being obese or thin may not just be a result of one's eating habits.

The discovery was the work of Dr Kaveh Ashrafi, of the Department of Physiology and UCSF Diabetes Center at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and colleagues, and is published in the 4th June issue of Cell Metabolism.

Scientists already knew that serotonin played a role in fat loss in both in the worm C. elegans and in mammals, with high levels of the brain chemical leading to fat loss and low levels leading to fat accumulation. However, there are differences, for example when serotonin is high, they may both lose fat, but in the case of the worms they also eat more, and in the case of humans, they eat less.

In this experiment the researchers think they found the answer to this difference in that serotonin acts in two independent molecular pathways: one controls fat levels and the other controls feeding behaviour. They wrote that:

"Serotonergic feeding regulation is mediated by receptors whose functions are not required for fat regulation."

Ashrafi, who is Jack and DeLoris Lange Assistant Professor of Systems Physiology at UCSF, and colleagues discovered that fat regulation depends on a neuron channel working with a G protein-coupled receptor that starts a signal cascade that encourages the breakdown of lipids (fat molecules) at peripheral sites of fat storage. The breakdown of the lipids creates intermediate chemicals in the periphery that affects feeding behaviour.

Ashrafi explained that:

"It says that the nervous system is a key regulator coordinating all energy-related processes through distinct molecular pathways."

"The nervous system makes a decision about its state leading to effects on behavior, reproduction, growth and metabolism. These outputs are related, but they are not consequences of each other."

"It's not that feeding isn't important, but the neural control of fat is distinct from feeding," said Ashrafi.

C elegans worms directly match their feeding rates to the availability of nutrients around them; when resources are low, they build up fat reserves, and when they are plentiful, they shed them. Thus, their perception of food availability controls their metabolic state, with conservation of energy being the predominant state during scarcity so that nutrients are directed to fat storage.

However, although worms and humans differ in their response to high and low serotonin, Ashrafi and colleagues speculated "that human counterparts of feeding-independent fat regulatory genes identified in our study may similarly regulate energy balance".

Speculating on the clinical implications of their findings, if the results on C elegans can be extrapolated to humans, it could lead to therapies that manipulate fat metabolism independently of what a person eats, said the researchers.

At the moment, therapies focus on feeding behaviour, which is important, but "it's only part of the story", explained Ashrafi:

"If the logic of the system is conserved across species, a strategy that focuses solely on behavior can only go so far."

"It may be one reason diets fail," he said.

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