Goodbye: But not for long

So it's the end of the semester which means this blog is technically over.  However, I feel like researching and learning more about exercising is a great outlet for me.  I truly enjoy this topic and never gave learning about it much effort.  For those who follow and read my posts, I hope to continue this blog.  With this being said, it's the end of the semester which means I am cramped for time finishing labs, projects and finals! (Yikes)  I will be absent from this blog for a good two weeks due to finishing school, moving back to Texas and helping my family with a wedding.  I will try to keep everyone updated with the blogs status.

I hope everyone finishes finals with a bang and enjoys the rest of May! I'll be back! 

Exercise- Good for the Heart!

Yesterday I read an article stating 25 reasons to exercise. Most of the reasons deal with strengthening the heart, which did not surprise me; however, it made me think of why it was good for the heart.  This lead me to an article written by Dr. J Kelly Smith titled "Long-term Exercise and Atherogenic Activity of Blood Mononuclear Cells in Persons at Risk of Developing Ischemic Heart Disease." In other words: How long term exercise and physical activity helps prevent loss of blood circulation and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference recently came out with a statement claiming children and adults are recommended to acquire 30 minutes of "moderate intensity" physical activity daily.  This is because there is a strong correlation between exercising and reduced CVD.  Although the paper bluntly states, the reason for this correlation is unknown, it speculates it is related to the decreases the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol) and insulin resistance (diabetes)- all increasing the chance of CVD.

A team of doctors combined their thoughts and ideas to create a study.  They chose 52 subjects to participate in a 6 month long study where doctors regulated exercise.  As the doctors monitored the subjects, they took readings on certain types of cells that are known to tear or/and clog arteries and the cells that repair the torn arteries. Over the course of 6 months of at least, 30 minutes of exercise a day, the "bad" cells' production decreased while the "good" cells remained constant.

Although the cause of this process is unknown, the correlation between the decrease in CVD and increase in exercise is too strong to disregard.  In my opinion- it's not just a coincidence.

Nothin' to Groin About

The single most painful thing I have ever done is pull my groin.  I remember the day so well: I was a sophomore in high school, practicing volleyball after school with my team.  I side stepped to the sideline, and the next moment I was rolling on the floor with tears rolling down my face.  I didn't want to move my leg or my body- every movement from the waist down caused overwhelming pain. My coach rushed over to assess what happened, and when she arrived she started laughing.  Without missing a beat she just said, "Cam, I think you might want to invest in waterproof mascara."

With all jokes aside- pulling/straining your groin is a serious injury that is ranked (by most polls) #8 on most common sport injuries. Your groin is located between your hip and femur (thigh bone).  It can also be called the Adductor Muscles of the thigh; however (if you look below) the pectineus and gracilis muscles are not technically a part of this group, yet they are included in the groin region.  

Typically when you pull your groin, it  means you weren't warmed up all the way.  To warm up properly, you must target every region of your body.  This doesn't mean just hit every muscle group by static stretching- my recent article talked about the difference between active and static stretching.  You need to make sure you actively stretch that region for all direction of motion. There are many techniques out there such as this one.  Just a heads up: some of the best groin warm ups are hurdle exercises because of a hurdler's wide range of motion and constant use of their groin.

If you do happen to pull  your groin, it's not the end of the world.  Try touching it- if it hurts (sends sharp pains) just touching it, you might have actually torn the muscle and you need to get to a doctor.  If not, the hardest step comes next- rest.  You have to stay off of it for several days.  The first day, ice is important. When you undergo a strained muscle the first objects are to reduce edema (fluid that causes swelling), stabilize the area, and reduce the pressure (force).  By applying ice, the muscles contract and the edema flow rate slows down.  The muscles contracting and the  less edema present causes the area to become more stabilized.  The only way to reduce the force on the area is to rest.  After the initial icing period, start applying heat to your groin. This helps the muscles loosen, and prepares them for stretching again.  By the third or fourth day, try walking on your groin without limping.  If this is too painful, get back on the couch and start heating it again.  Make sure you realize your groin will be sore and stiff- this is a different pain than the actual injury.  When it finally is not pain to walk, start off slow.  Do not push yourself! Pushing yourself can actually set you back even further.  Most groin injuries take at least two weeks to return back to normal.  

Be sure to warm up every muscle group used in your body before you start exercising.  It is better to spend the 10 minutes warming up than the 10 days to recover from a strained groin!

Different Strokes

Growing up in Texas, I swam every  single day.  It was the best way to beat the heat and humidity- plus, everyone has a pool and lakes are everywhere. Swimming was completely recreational for me, so I forget some people use it to exercise and compete.  In fact, swimming is proven to be one of the best forms of exercise- especially for those with injuries and other health issues.

Swimming is a full body exercise- strengthening and stretching every muscle in your body.  The activity focuses on your back and core muscles, helping improve your posture- preventing long term consequences. It does this in a low impact environment, using natural resistance to build muscle.  Low impact means you save your joints, ligaments, tendons, and bones large amounts of stress, decreasing your chance of injury (see my post on stress fractures).  Since humans are naturally buoyant, the body weighs 1/10th of its actual weight when in the water. This allows people of all ages and sizes to be able to work out.  Studies have shown for senior citizens and obese individuals, swimming also increases the moral while working out since they are not as limited in the water as they are on land.

According to Science Daily, water exercises also improve the inner workings. They help strengthen the cardiovascular system; extreme asthma; snoring; and mouth breathing.  Most of these cases are induced by the way the body uses oxygen and the heat and humidity of the pool (mainly for asthma).  Because of the strict breathing regiment swimming enforces, it makes the body concentrate on the amount of air taken in, how that air (mainly oxygen) is used, and when to breath it out.  This concentration relaxes the body, alleviating stress on the heart and maximizes the use of the intake of oxygen.

So whether you take a dip for fun or for exercise- remember that you are doing your body a huge favor.  If you want to learn better techniques of swimming there are websites that teach you proper techniques  or even swimming workouts. Even if you don't like "just swimming", there are alternatives: water aerobics, water polo, or even just a fun game of Marco Polo with friends. Just remember water isn't too bad!

Knock on Wood

With the NBA Playoffs finally here, injuries could be considered the worst nightmare for players and coaches (outside of losing of course).  Some injuries such as shoulder, ankle, or a broken bone can sit a player for the rest of the season; however, nothing is as threatening as a head injury.  A head injury (or maybe even several) can mean the end of the career and/or permanent damage to your brain or spinal cord.  The most common head injury is a concussion, in which 30,000 sports injuries occur each year. 

So what happens when you get a concussion? When your head hits the surface (typically a stationary surface), your brain encounters a large amount force and torque causing the cells in the brain to all react at once. Side effects include: Confusion, Memory Loss, Unconsciousness, Headache, Dizziness, Nausea/Vomiting and/or Vision changes. These vary depending on the severity of the hit and the person's body.  In most cases, athletes don't have any side effects except for a headache which is worrisome. 

Recovery from a concussion can take from a few days to several weeks.  There are symptoms that can appear weeks and even  up to a year after the initial blow that are not understood.  The reasons for these post shocks have been speculated to be physical or psychological. The symptoms include memory, sleep and concentration disturbances, fatigue, irritability and personality changes. 

If an athlete doesn't allow enough time to recover they can endure a second blow to the head.  This second occurrence is more dangerous than the first; typically resulting in death or permanent brain damage.  If you do take a blow to the head, be sure to visit a doctor, even if you only experience a headache. Although there is no medical cure for concussions except for pain relievers, a doctor can evaluate the damage via MRIs and assess a proper recovery time.

Anorexic Athlete?

A while ago I posted on steroid use, which sparked comments on the exact opposite- anorexia.  There are some sports such as gymnastics and ice skating, which require a slender and lean body as well as a weight restriction.   This can add extra stress to the athletes, forcing them to find alternatives ways to stay within their weight restraints besides working out.  Many turn to anorexia or bulimia; two life threatening diseases, not only to athletes, but to every individual. 

Kristie Henrich- Olympic Gymmast died at age 22
from multiple organ failure caused by anorexia. 
Athletes who suffer from anorexia or bulimia are putting themselves more at risk than an every day individual. Due to the high intensity of their workouts and the strain they put on their bodies, athletes can develop  the symptoms at an early stage and more severe, and are susceptible to sudden cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is spurred by abnormal heart rhythms caused by the eating disorder, which become more frequent with the increasing heart rate.  Also, since osteoporosis (decrease in bone mass) and sleep disorders are also side effects, the strain the athlete endures can lead to fractures/breaks in the bone or high chances of tearing muscles.  Other side effects are malnutrition, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and amenorrhea

Eating disorders are becoming more popular in athletes and also in every day life.  The people who suffer them can experience life long consequences and can even result in fatality. If you do know some who shows signs of excessive weight loss or obsesses over food intake, help them out by pointing them in the right direction.  There are multiple hotlines or websites to help.  The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders  is a popular and established hotline. 

The final stretch...

It seems the closer summer comes, the less motivation I have.  It could be everything is happening at once: projects, paperwork, packing, job finding... No matter what it is, I'm on my final stretch.  Which made me realize, since I'm discussing sport injuries and improvements to exercise, I should start with the basics- stretching!

Those who have played on a team probably can relate to sitting in lines (or a circle), apathetically counting to ten- holding each stretch.  Or perhaps you have observed most gym patrons head to the stretching mat upon arrival.  Stretching has been preached to everyone; to some people it is more important than the workout itself.  Today I'm here to say, most people stretch incorrectly.  In fact, majority of people stretch in a detrimental way.

Dynamic Stretching
There are three different types of stretching according to The Gym Press' article "Stretching Scientifically Part II"- static, dynamic and active.
Today I'm only going to focus on static and dynamic stretching since active stretching only pertains to certain competitive activities.  Everyone has been taught static stretching; this is the type of stretching where you hold a pose for a certain count and then move on to the next stretch.  This is not the type of stretch you need before you start exercising.  Static stretching helps with overall flexibility (which is still important), but it doesn't help warm up your muscles for the workout. To warm up before an exercise, you need to get your heart pumping, your lungs working, and your muscles moving.  This can be accomplished by walking for 5 minutes at a faster pace than normal, or even riding the stationary bike for several minutes.  Warming up in this sense is NOT stretching! After the warm up, you need to practice dynamic stretching.  Dynamic stretching allows your body to stay warm, while controlling your motions to perform stretches.  This parallels the motions you will encounter in your exercise, decreasing your chances of pulling a muscle. There are many websites that are similar to this one, that have a variety of dynamic stretches.

Static Stretching
So why static stretch? Static stretching and dynamic stretching go hand in hand.  Static flexibility you acquire by static stretching allows you to have more dynamic/active flexibility which dynamic stretching enhances. The more flexible your muscles are, the "longer" they are.  When your muscles are "short", they create tension on your bones, which can lead to fractures.  "Short" muscles are also more prone to extensive tearing, or being pulled.  To keep your muscles long after a workout, complete a five minute cool-down (slight jog/walk).  Allow your muscles to completely cool down, and then do a static stretch routine.