Fit as a…fiddle?

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Body image has been a hot topic over the past several years. Recently, many companies have run advertising campaigns to promote healthy body types in reaction to the extremely thin models who have been so prevalent in the media.

The recent video of dancer Misty Copeland has had a huge impact on the dance world and has made us think about the concept of an ideal dancer’s body.  I remember not too long ago, when “athletic body type” was considered a euphemism for “thick” or “heavyset.”  I hope you agree that while Misty is certainly athletic, she is neither thick nor heavyset.

Beyond the notion of an ideal body type, I’ve recently been thinking about the concept of fitness. I blame this partly on recently reading The Sports Gene by David Epstein, and also having just returned from a continuing education class filled with practitioners who each work with a different clientele, including college athletes, golfers, yoga practitioners, and the general population, some more active than others.   As I thought about the baseball pitchers, cyclists, runners, and CrossFit participants with whom we each work, I could easily identify ways they are fit, but I also thought of areas where they may be deficient.  I began to wonder about fitness.

When someone is decribed as “fit”, what does that really mean?  Does it mean the same thing to everyone?  There are different dictionary definitions of fitness, some of which brought a smile to my face:

1. The condition of being physically fit and healthy (I’m going to need a little more here…).

2.  Good health or physical condition, especially as the result of exercise and proper nutrition (ok, we may be getting somewhere…).

3.  The capacity of an organism to survive and transmit its genotype to reproductive offspring as compared to competing organisms (well….I bet you know plenty of people who have the capacity to transmit their genotype to reproductive offspring who you would not call fit).

So, we’re back to the drawing board with defining fitness.

Is a body builder with bulging biceps and massive quads more fit than a marathon runner?

Is Tiger Woods more fit than Serena Williams or Michael Phelps?

What does it mean to be fit?  Ah…what I would do to take a camera out onto the streets of San Francisco and ask people this question (stay tuned…).

As we think about each of the athletes and their respective sports, it quickly becomes clear that fitness is hard to define and describe.  While the bodybuilder might have larger muscles that allow him to lift heavy weights, the marathon runner would certainly show greater cardiovascular endurance across those 26.2 miles.  Tiger Woods and Serena Williams both demonstrate amazing muscular development and precise hand-eye coordination, but if he had to run around the golf course like she does the tennis court, could Tiger keep up with Serena?  Michael loves the game of golf and, like Tiger, has an amazingly strong core, yet I wouldn’t want either one of them representing the other’s sport in competition.

This is an important topic to me both personally and in my work with athletes of all ages, skill levels, shapes and sizes.  To me, there is no one definition of fitness.  I believe that fitness is a balanced combination of strength, stability, balance, flexibility, and endurance…and maybe even mindfulness.  What the general population thinks of as an ideal of fitness may actually be a person who excels in the sport in which they train, but has severe and potentially harmful imbalances in some of the categories mentioned above.  The fittest people with whom I work are those who enjoy a variety of exercise and sporting activities.  These are the folks who are rarely in our studio for treatment, except for the occasional tune up after having changed their routine. Often, the people who appear most physically fit are those who are plagued with injuries related to imbalances in overall fitness.

I’ve learned that there is no one ideal body type just as there may be different ideas of fitness.  I encourage my clients to be successful in their rehab and develop and improve their fitness by recommending a three key steps:

1. Move well and move often.

2. Find something you enjoy doing.

3. Mix up your routine—your body will thank you for it.

So, what does fitness mean to you?

And, in case you were wondering where “Fit as a fiddle” came from…

A Collaborative Effort: Acupuncture for Athletes

Guest post by Vita Yee, L.Ac.

Vita Yee, L.Ac.

Vita Yee, L.Ac.

Acupuncture Helps Athletes Like You!

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or an Olympic athlete, whether you dance for the SF Ballet or for fun, as long as you move, you’re going to put your body to work under stressful and challenging conditions.  We all juggle extremely full lives, and want to perform at our very best in all situations.  Acupuncture can be a powerful tool to help keep us tuned for optimal health so we can continue to do what makes us happy!

Acupuncture is part of a comprehensive natural health care system that has been used for thousands of years to preserve health as well as diagnose, treat and prevent illness.  According to Chinese medicine theory, optimal physiological function and health depend on the proper circulation of nutrients, substances and energy through a network of “channels” or “meridians” in the body.  Like a very complex and extensive roadmap, this network connects every organ and part of the body, providing balance, regulation and coordination of anatomy and physiological processes.  By inserting very fine needles into specific acupuncture points along these channels of circulation, we can influence the physiological functioning of the body.  Acupuncture activates the natural, self-healing abilities of the body through the stimulation of  “acupoints.”

In my clinic, I use acupuncture for a variety of conditions, including traumatic injuries, post-surgery rehab, and musculoskeletal and constitutional imbalances.  It is often effective for relieving pain and muscle spasm and improving circulation to tense or injured tissues.  I find acupuncture especially effective for acute injuries (like sprains and strains) as well as chronic injuries which have responded poorly to other types of treatment.

Here are some good reasons to try acupuncture!

1. Acupuncture relieves pain:  According to Chinese medicine, energy is constantly moving through the body. When it is circulating properly, we feel balanced and strong. When energy is blocked or stagnated, we experience it as pain, dysfunction and disease. Western Medicine studies have shown that acupuncture leads to the release of endorphins1, natural painkillers that help reduce pain2 and promote an increased sense of wellbeing.

2. Acupuncture reduces inflammation: Acupuncture sends signals through the peripheral and central nervous systems to stimulate a healing response.3 Reducing inflammation and improving the circulation of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood flow into the injured tissue allows for increases in range of motion, helping us move better!

3.  Acupuncture restores homeostasis: Athletes train hard and for extended periods of time, which can lead to muscular and physiological imbalances.  Treating specific acupoints of injured or imbalanced muscles resets the communication between the muscles and the brain, reducing pain and restoring proper muscle function.4 Restoring balance to complimentary muscle groups releases pressure on joints and nerves, which allows the body to move more freely and efficiently and, ultimately, prevents extreme wear and tear on the body.

4.  Acupuncture enhances sports performance:  The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports that the use of acupuncture in resistance and endurance sports activities increases muscular strength and power.  The study also suggests acupuncture improves the hemodynamic parameters of endurance athletes.5

5. Acupuncture improves blood flow:  Blood flow decreases as we age and can be impacted by trauma, injuries, and disease.  A study from UCLA Medical Center concludes that one reason acupuncture is effective is due to its ability to increase the release of nitric oxide throughout the body.6 Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which opens up the arteries and allows for more blood flow to your heart and other internal organs.  This is significant because everything the body needs to heal is in the blood, including oxygen, nutrients that promote good tissue health, immunity support, hormones, natural analgesics, and anti-inflammatories. Restoring proper blood flow is vital to promoting and maintaining health.

6. Better quality of life:  Perhaps the most important systemic effect of acupuncture is its ability to reduce stress. Research from Georgetown University Medical Center suggests that acupuncture significantly reduces levels of a protein linked to chronic stress, which may help explain the sense of well-being that many people receive from acupuncture.7 A preliminary report in 2004 found that acupuncture increased nighttime melatonin production and total sleep time.8 The patients who received acupuncture fell asleep easier, were less restless at night, and were less stressed.  The body repairs itself at rest, so sleeping well is vital for improved athletic performance!

Chinese medicine requires us to look at health with a different perspective. It operates under the premise that our bodies are constantly seeking balance and strength naturally.  In this context, health is a dynamic result of nurturing, supporting and cultivating the inherent intelligence of the body to do its own job.  Whether you are experiencing a chronic problem, a recent injury or want to achieve optimal health, restoring balance is the key to your well-being.

If you’ve got more questions, you can find me at v.acupuncture@gmail.com!

BONUS: Acupuncture + Physical Therapy:  A study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine showed that the integration of acupuncture and physical therapy to treat frozen shoulder led to a better outcome than using only one method.9

1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22965186

2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15135942

3 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20512135

4 Callison, M.  “The Effect of Motor Point Needling on Painful Shoulder Conditions: Range of Motion and Manual Muscle Testing.” [Unpublished] 1997.

5 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20386479

6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19468961

7 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22156045

8 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14990755

9 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17080543

Healthy Hydration

ImageGuest post by San Francisco-based Nutritionist, Bethany Pianca:

We have all heard that staying hydrated is important.  It is also widely known that the body is mostly made up of water (approximately 60% in adults).  So what’s the big deal?  Many of the reactions that take place in our cells require water.  That can be hard for us to visualize, but it results in things we can see and feel.  When dehydrated, our skin can be dry, as opposed to plump and healthy looking.  Our brain doesn’t work as well when we are dehydrated, and slower thinking and headaches can result. It even makes a difference in the world of sports.  Dehydration can affect our muscle strength and endurance, and even our aerobic performance.  An additional undesirable effect of dehydration – it can make you think you’re hungry, when really you’re thirsty, resulting in often-unwanted weight gain.  Even with this knowledge, some people still have a hard time staying hydrated throughout the day. So how much water should you have each day?  The Adequate Intake set by the United States Department of Agriculture is 3.7 liters per day for adult males (15-16 cups) and 2.7 liters per day for adult females (11-12 cups).  Keep in mind that it is possible to drink too much water, so it is important never to force yourself to drink too much.  Here are some tips for staying optimally hydrated.

  • Weigh yourself before and after you exercise.  For every pound you lost while exercising, drink 16oz of fluid to replace it.
  • Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day and take small sips so you don’t feel like you have to drink a lot at a time.
  • Keep caffeine and alcohol to a minimum as these both act as diuretics, which can dehydrate you further.
  •  If you don’t like plain water, try putting a little lemon in it, or drinking an herbal tea (Note: make sure to fully research an herbal tea before consumption, some can have dangerous side effects).
  • For exercise lasting longer than 60 minutes, you may need to replace electrolytes in addition to water.  This can be accomplished by having a snack (such as a banana) along with your water, or by consuming a sports drink (careful though, sports drinks can be tough on teeth!).

Bethany Pianca is a Nutritionist with a B.S. in Dietetics from San Francisco State University.  She is currently an intern at San Francisco State University working towards becoming a Registered Dietitian.  With experience counseling those looking to lose weight, boost energy, or just improve their diet, Bethany focuses on making changes that fit the client’s lifestyle.