03/20/11 8:09am

Want to fight arthritis? Get off the couch. Moving the body is the best medicine for arthritis pain. Regular, moderate exercise offers a variety of benefits.

A 2008 study published by the Mayo Clinic shows a connection between physical inactivity and chronic musculoskeletal complaints involving muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones. People with chronic conditions such as back pain, arthritis or neck pain suffer not only with pain but also with fatigue and even depression. When a person avoids exercise, joints become less mobile and the surrounding muscles shrink, causing increased discomfort to the joint area. A physical therapist or personal trainer can tailor exercise programs based on health conditions and fitness levels.

Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscle around the joints and increases flexibility and endurance. It reduces inflammation from arthritis and related conditions and lowers the risk of other chronic conditions.

You’ve got to move. But sometimes it’s not so easy to get started when you’re achy and sore. The pain level you experience will determine the level you would start with in your exercise plan.

If you suffer from intense pain, then start with flexibility movements, which are basically stretching exercises that will improve your range of motion and help you perform daily activities that have already become difficult. Start from the top and work your way down. Many of your exercises can be done sitting in a chair. Move your neck side to side, do shoulder rolls, wrist circles, bring your knees up and do ankle rolls. Doing this a few times a day will gradually increase blood flow to your joints, leading to freedom of movement without pain. Other modalities such as yoga and tai chi are also great forms of flexibility exercise. Look in your local paper to find classes supported by the town.

Muscular fitness, as with strength training, helps to make your joints more stable and increases bone density. Stronger muscles keep your bones positioned properly, decreasing injuries. Strengthening can be obtained by using resistant bands, tubing or weights. Be sure to use proper form, meaning good posture, and have a resistance that allows you to complete 8 to 15 repetitions for each exercise. If you can do more, your resistance is too light.

Aerobic fitness basically means to get your heart pumping, which in turn increases your lung capacity. The rewards are improved metabolism, a better mood, more energy, increased stamina and decreased inflammation. Walking, use of a stationary bike, swimming or using a rebounder (mini trampoline) are just a few of the many ways to get aerobically fit. Just getting off the couch during commercials while watching television is a great way to begin. Stand in place and march while swinging your arms. Try to get your hands to swing above the heart to increase blood flow and oxygen intake. This will help improve circulation, which is a key component to nourishing joints.

For those with joint damage, high-impact exercise can make arthritis pain feel worse. It’s best to consult with your doctor before starting a workout regimen. Your doctor might suggest that you take an anti-inflammatory prior to your exercise workout. If you can exercise through the discomfort, it will help keep your joints moving.

Make exercise a daily routine and you will lessen arthritis pain. A consistent, balanced fitness program of cardio, muscle strengthening and stretching will do more than help decrease arthritis pain — it could aid in the prevention of further chronic pain and help prevent other serious conditions such as heart disease and hypertension and lower your cholesterol.

Elyse Ray is a licensed massage therapist and fitness trainer specializing in muscle strengthening and flexibility training. She operates her own business in a private studio on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.

01/24/11 9:08am

Resolution: a firm decision to do something; determination of mind.

Ah, the new year — a new beginning, a clean slate. Studies show that the most common resolution made each year is to begin an exercise regimen. Well, here you are, a few weeks into 2011, so I ask you, how’s it going?

We have every intention of sticking to our goals. So why do we fail? The problem is that our enthusiasm starts to fade once we realize we can’t change everything overnight.

Here are a few motivational tips to help anyone who is looking to make lasting changes and start a regular fitness routine:

• Take baby steps. Set small and achievable goals. Whether it’s the amount of weight to lose, length of a workout, or days per week, start small. If you set goals that are attainable, and ones you can actually accomplish, it motivates you. It energizes you. It empowers you. Depending on what shape you’re in — and you must honest here — you might have to set a goal such as going to the gym twice a week for 25 minutes.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You will feel so completely satisfied and proud when you achieve this goal. You will be less likely to “fail” and that will give you a sense of accomplishment. Of course, if you get to the gym and after 25 minutes, you want to continue, go for it. It won’t be long before you’re doing this three times a week. Or you might have a goal based on weight loss. Let’s be realistic. Setting a goal of one pound per week is very realistic.

• Diet and exercise go together. You can’t have one without the other. Eating right and exercising are important when looking to achieve a goal of losing weight and getting fit. If you only diet, but don’t exercise, you wont see the maximum results you seek. But again, don’t attempt to change everything all at once. Make small changes. If you deprive yourself of too many of your favorite foods, you’ll resent the “diet.” And here’s an even bigger tip: Don’t call it a diet. Diets are short-lived. Even the word diet sounds restrictive. Think of it as a lifestyle change.

• Keep it fun. Try to change your attitude about fitness. Instead of saying, “I have to go to the gym”, try saying, “I want to go to the gym.” Instead of viewing exercise as painful, boring or time consuming, think of it as a break from a stressful workday, a way to boost energy and mood, the only time you’ll have entirely to yourself all day and a way to improve your quality of life immediately.
Exercising with a friend or working with a trainer will help you enjoy your workouts even more. A trainer can help you get started, keep you motivated and always keep it fresh. Remember to change your routine regularly.

• Don’t beat yourself up. Yes, there will be a day when you will be too tired to go to the gym. Maybe go anyway by making a deal with yourself, “OK, I’ll go for only a short while.” Hey, anything is better than nothing. And probably you’ll end up staying longer than you intended. Or you may have a day where your healthy eating habits — remember, don’t say “diet” — will be out the window. Don’t throw it all out the window. Allow yourself a “cheat day” every now and then. Tomorrow is another day.

Stick to your goals and remember the words of author Robert Collier: “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

Elyse Ray is a licensed massage therapist and fitness trainer who operates her own private studio on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead. She specializes in muscle strengthening and flexibility training.

01/07/11 5:59pm

Before you reach for that snow shovel this winter, think first about protecting your back. When you do battle with Old Man Winter, or tackle any other kind of heavy lifting at home or on the job, do everything you can to reduce the chance of injury by strengthening your back.

Your best insurance for maintaining healthy back muscles is exercising and keeping your back muscles strong and flexible. It’s equally important to maintain a healthy weight or shed some pounds if you weigh too much. Maintain strong bones by making sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D every day. Visiting a chiropractor and massage therapist on a regular basis or receiving acupuncture is also important for stabilizing a healthy back or in the event you have already strained your back.

Snow shoveling is a repetitive activity that can cause muscle strain to the lower back and shoulders, especially if a person is out of condition. Snow shoveling is also heavy work, so it’s important to pay attention to how you lift.

You can save your back by making sure to shovel with proper alignment. When you’re bent over digging into a pile of heavy snow or hacking at ice, the hunched stance can lead to strain in the lower back. It takes only one shovelful of wet snow with your back in the wrong alignment, and the next thing you know, you’re in pain.

Here are some tips for avoiding back strain from snow shoveling:

• Lift smaller loads of snow, skimming off the top of the snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls. Take care to bend your knees as you would if you were sitting in a chair or the pose of a squat, and lift with your legs rather than with your back.

• Use a shovel with a handle that lets you keep your back straight while lifting. A short handle will cause you to bend more and a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier.

• Because the spine can’t tolerate twisting as well as it can other movements, it’s important to avoid this movement as much as possible. Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow. This will help avoid the “next-day back fatigue” experienced by people who shovel snow.

• Take frequent breaks while shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back. And very important — drink plenty of water. You are engaging in a vigorous exercise when shoveling.

You can help prevent and reduce back pain by strengthening your back and keeping it limber with some flexibility techniques. In addition, strengthening your legs, hips and shoulders can help improve your ability to squat, lift and carry items without overworking or injuring your back. Many know that they need to be more physically fit, but are unsure of what to do and how to do it properly. A certified fitness trainer can come to your rescue.

With proper precautions and the correct snow shoveling technique, injuries to the shoulders and lower back can often be avoided. Be kind to your back this winter, take your time and don’t do too much in one day.

Elyse Ray is a licensed massage therapist and fitness trainer specializing in muscle strengthening and flexibility training. She operates her own business in a private studio on Roanoke Avenue in Riverhead.