As we move past the winter solstice – allowing our dark Seattle days to gradually become lighter! – and into 2014, my mind is on my vision for the new year, which includes improving my level of health and fitness. I found some great support for that today in a blog post by The New York Times health and fitness writer Gretchen Reynolds. She surveys research that links the evolution of the human brain and cognitive capacity to the development of physical fitness and endurance, suggesting that "if physical activity helped to mold the structure of our brains, then it most likely remains essential to brain health today."
Sounds great, especially as there's also reams of research linking physical activity to longevity and happiness and quality of life. As you engage in any new activity or increase in your current level of activity, it's important to avoid injury so that your program is not derailed. Here's a few words of advice from my professional background and training in bodywork and movement:
- Any increase in activity or training needs to be gradual and intelligent: don't "just do it" but listen to your body and what it tells you as you move, as discussed here. Work out in a harmonious relationship with your body, not as its dictator.
- As you add in or amp up strength training or cardio workouts, be sure to stretch as well. I recommend yoga (particularly Viniyoga) and Scott Sonnon's Intu Flow (which you can learn from this dvd or on YouTube in this video and others.) I'll be writing more about Intu Flow in the future as I work with it myself, but my initial impression from doing it for about 6 weeks is that it is an awesome methodology for joint health and mobility, plus it is fun to practice.
- To support your physical activity, you may want to consider bodywork, particularly Rolfing® Structural Integration and manual therapy for the nerves to open up stuck fascia around the muscles, joints, and nerves. These "gunky" shortened areas will be challenged as you increase your level of activity, and you may feel restrictions there as either tension or pain that will make you lose heart rather than stick to your program. Some quick tune up sessions can easily jump start your range of motion and make it easier to stay on track.
- For the truly inspired, you may want to consider the Rolfing Ten Series, a ten-session protocol that I describe as "a 50,000 mile tune-up for your body."
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2014!