Tuesday, February 12, 2019

9 Phenomenal Health Benefits of Shinrin-Yoku aka Forest Bathing

When you go hiking, do you sense that taking a walk through the trees is good for you? You're right! Back in 1982, the Japanese government issued public service announcements encouraging people to walk in forests to relieve stress and improve health. They called it shinrin-yoku, which translates to "forest bathing." I wish we Americans would’ve had a Public Service Announcement on forest bathing. The only PSAs I remember on health during the 1980s were “exercise your choppers” and “hanker for a hunk-of-cheese.” ;)

Studies show that both exercising in forests and just sitting and looking at trees reduces blood pressure and reduces the stress-related hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Looking at pictures of trees has a similar, but less dramatic effect. Studies have compared walking in forests to walking in urban, unplanted areas, and the urban walkers showed no reduction of stress-related hormones. Forest bathing also significantly decreases scores on a standardized inventory for anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and fatigue.

Another interesting effect of shinrin-yoku is that it boosts our immune system. When we breathe in fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, which are airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves from insects. Phytoncides have antibacterial and antifungal qualities which help plants fight disease. When people breathe in these chemicals, our bodies respond by increasing the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. These cells kill tumor- and virus-infected cells in our bodies. In one study, people who spent three days and two nights on a forest bathing trip increased their natural killer cell activity for more than 30 days following the trip. Japanese researchers are currently exploring whether exposure to forests can help prevent certain kinds of cancer.

Yet another awesome benefit:  shinrin-yoku may help you focus better. Our lives are busier than ever, and attempting to focus on many activities can mentally drain us. Even maintaining focus on a single thing for a long period of time can deplete us mentally. This is a phenomenon called “Directed Attention Fatigue.” Spending time in nature, looking at trees, plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, which allows us to focus better and renews our ability to be patient.

Here are nine of the research-based health benefits of shinrin-yoku.

1.     Lowers blood pressure
2.     Reduces stress
3.     Boosts the immune system
4.     Increases ability to focus
5.     Enhances patience
6.     Improves mood and sense of well-being
7.     Increases energy level
8.     Improves sleep
9.     Accelerates recovery after surgery or illness

Research shows that visiting a forest has real, quantifiable health benefits. Even spending just five minutes around trees or in green spaces has the power to improve your health. Think of shinrin-yoku like a prescription with no negative side effects…and it’s free!


Saturday, February 2, 2019

7 Safe Steps to Starting a Weight Lifting Routine with Arthritis

As an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor and RN, I get lots of questions from people with arthritis about how they should approach exercise. Their doctors tell them to include weight training in their workout routine, but they’re not sure how to do it without making their arthritis worse or getting injured.

Do me a favor before you get started. Run this by your doctor to ensure it’s safe for your particular medical condition. Just because this workout plan has been generally accepted as safe and beneficial for most people with arthritis does *not* mean that it’s safe for you.

So you’ve seen your doctor, and s/he gave you the green light. Here's how to get started lifting weights at home or in the gym.

1. How often should I lift weights?
  • 2 to 3 times per week
  • 20 to 30 minutes per session
  • You’ll get visible benefits in 4-12 weeks!
  • In 6 months, most people increase strength 40% or more!
2. How much time do I need to recover between sessions?
  • If you’re training one muscle group hard, wait 48 hours to train that muscle group again (that said…some people may need more recovery time, especially if you’re new to the type of exercise you’re doing)
  • If you’re not really hammering a muscle group, rest at least 1 day between sessions (again…some people may need more recovery time)
  • Remember:  exercise is the architect, recovery is the builder
3. How much weight should I lift?
  • Start with a pair of light dumbbells (2 to 3 pounds for women and 5 to 8 pounds for men)
  • If you can’t do 12 repetitions, the weight is too heavy
  • If you don’t feel tired after 12 reps, it’s too light
  • Adjustable weights that can be strapped to wrists or ankles may be helpful if you have arthritis in your hands
  • You can also use weight machines, cable machines and resistance bands
4. How many reps and sets?
  • The American College of Rheumatology and American Council on Exercise recommend completing one set of 8 to 12 reps
  • Work the muscle to the point of fatigue by the last few reps of each set
5. How should I organize my workout?
  • Work all major muscle groups, starting with larger muscles
  • Always include exercises for opposing muscles…work the biceps and triceps of your arms…work the quadriceps and hamstrings of your thighs
6. How should I lift the weight?
  • Lift slowly and smoothly, counting 4 counts up and 4 counts down
  • Don’t lock (fully straighten) knees or elbows...this puts stress on the joints and can permanently damage joints
  • Deliberately exhale when lifting, and inhale when lowering
7. Which exercises should I avoid?
  • Avoid above-the-shoulder exercises if you have arthritis in your upper body
  • Talk to your doctor before using leg press machines if you have arthritis in your knees or hips