Yoga

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What it is & What it isn’t!

By Raymond Onyango.

One of the things I dislike the most about cooperate cocktail functions is the way people often talk to you, without any real interest in getting to know anything outside of your job title and how you can help them advance their own careers. But every now and then I find my self at such functions, and when the conversation at the table turns, as it inevitably does, to work and job titles; it is always interesting to observe how people react when I introduce myself as a Yoga Teacher.

What often follows is a brief interlude of silence as everyone around the table tries to gauge whether I am joking or not, and then the customary deluge of questions of all kinds, some of them unbelievably hilarious! Once a lady sitting next to me, rolled her eyes back into their sockets, adopted a mocking meditation posture and sought to know if I could access higher spiritual dimensions. On another occasion a gentleman on the other side of the table started to narrate a story about a Yogi he had seen on television floating in the air and walking on fire. It would seem that quite a few people are resolutely convinced that yoga is actually a religion of some kind.

I have been a Yoga teacher for some years now, and so I am fairly accustomed to these lines of questioning. Despite the fact that Yoga is now, by some estimates, a 6 billion dollar industry worldwide; there are still a huge majority of people particularly here in Kenya, where yoga is just beginning to take root, who still do not understand what Yoga really is and what it is not.

Getting Down To Basics

As a yoga instructor one of the things I have made a point of doing is working hard to demystify the practice of Yoga in order to make it more accessible to ordinary Kenyans, mostly by cutting thought the commercial and new age twaddle and getting down to the fundamentals of what this practice really means to me and why I believe it is perhaps the most effective forms of exercise out there.

Perhaps the biggest myth about yoga and one that I would like to dispel is that you have to be super flexible in order to do yoga. One of the first things I emphasize in all the classes I teach is that yoga is a non-competitive form of movement. The emphasis is not at all on how much you can contort your body into weird poses; much more weight is placed on the process of communicating with your body and allowing it to relax in order to go deeper into the individual poses and access their numerous health benefits.

This leads me to point number two. Yoga as it is practiced in many classes worldwide is built on the recognition of two basis principles, breath and heat.

Breath

The breath has a deep connection to the body, one that we recognize instinctively as human beings. Often when one receives shocking news, such as the loss of a loved one, their first reaction will be to hold their breath. Men will often talk of a woman so beautiful, she literally takes your breath away and of course we have all heaved a deep sigh of relief at some point in our lives after overcoming a particularly steep challenge.

Yoga, an over five thousand year old practice is built on the simple recognition that by manipulating the breath, we can influence the nervous system to reach much deeper levels of relaxation. That is the premise behind many of the breathing exercises that one encounters in yoga practice. From my own experience, the breathing is what makes the difference between practicing Yoga and just merely stretching. As you learn to breath deeper and more freely, the musculature of the body also opens up and awareness and freedom of movement come back into previously tight areas such as your lower back, hips and shoulders and you progress in your levels of flexibility without much struggle.

 Heat

One of the first things you are likely to do in a yoga class is to warm up, though a series of postures known as the Sun Salutations. Compared with the effectiveness of the Sun Salutation, everything else you can think about as warm up falls far short.  In the sun salutation, you bend forward, you reach backwards, you twist sideways and you challenge both your balance and coordination, while gently building heat in the body and working up a sweat.

You only need to walk down to Gikomba Market or Dargoretti Corner in Nairobi and watch the Metal artisans at work in order to understand how heat influences flexibility. Before they embark on shaping the metal they will heat it to make it more malleable, and then they can shape it, without breaking it. The human body works in much the same way, by getting the sweating taps running with a few series of Sun Salutations we open up the myofasial sheath that gives shape to our muscles and this is what allows seasoned Yogis to effortlessly flow into such mind blowing physical postures. The secret lies in heat not magic!

 Is Yoga A Religion?

Absolutely not! There is plenty of Mantra chanting in most Yoga classes and that can often be a turnoff for those people who have established religious beliefs. This need not be so, much of the chanting in yoga is done in an age old language known as Sanskrit, A precursor to many modern day languages and the language in which the original Yoga Sutra’s or Founding Texts are codified. The mantras are not strange magical invocations, but rather codified pieces of yoga philosophy communicated in much the same way we learned to recite our multiplication tables in elementary school. The practice of yoga does not require you to renounce your religion or take up a new belief system, it merely encourages you to examine your life a little more deeply and expand your sense of awareness

 Is yoga easy?

Yoga can be as easy or as hard as you wish it to be. Over the years an increasingly wide variety of yoga styles have evolved to cater for the different tastes of yoga practitioners worldwide. You could for instance attend a traditional Hatha Yoga class, which focuses heavily on body alignment and breathing or you can get into an Ashtanga or Vinyasa Class which, though its flowing sequences and rapid movement will likely be one of the hardest physical challenges you have ever faced in your life. The key to a successful yoga practice lies in finding a class that allows you to safely practice at a comfortable level while providing you with a degree of challenge to spur your growth.

 Yoga Teachers In Kenya

Yoga is fast growing in Kenya and in many urban centers you can now find a yoga teacher. Among the people who are doing an incredible job of promoting Yoga to individuals from all income groups in Kenya include Ms. Paige Elenson through her Non Profit Organization, Africa Yoga Project. The Africa Yoga project works with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, empowering them with the skills to become yoga teachers and earn a living for themselves while spreading the Yoga message of love and compassion. It is truly inspiring to witness what they have done to make Yoga more mainstream in Kenya and I wish them all the best in their continued efforts, Visit them at  http://www.africayogaproject.org.

Aerobics Kenya have a wide selection of yoga DVD’s and would be a great place to start looking for Yoga videos, if you don’t have access to a yoga teacher. visit them http://www.facebook.com/AerobicsKenya

You can also find a listing on Yoga teachers on this website (look under Exercise Information), though the list is by no means exhaustive.

In conclusion perhaps I should say that the beauty of yoga lies in the fact that it works. Over the years I have seen individuals come to class stiff or injured and then slowly over time, they are able to stretch out and overcome numerous physical limitations…in this practice the progress happens slowly, never overnight. But if you stay consistent, even mountains will shift. One day something releases in your body, old knotted muscles untangle and life flows though your body in a body in a brand new way. But you couldn’t possibly experience this unless you take the first step a start practicing!

Have a relaxed week will you!

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Keep Breast Cancer At Bay

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Why physical activity makes all the difference

By Raymond Onyango.

As we come to the end of the official Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this October.  We as a nation have plenty of reasons to reflect on the increasing prevalence of cancer in our society. In the intervening months we have followed Health Minister the Hon. Anyang Nyongo’s successful battle with prostate cancer and we have been unfortunate enough to loose one of the worlds most Illustrious Conservationists and Nobel Peace Laureates, the Late Professor, Waangari Mathaai, who succumbed last month to Ovarian cancer after a long struggle bravely borne.

These two events, have served in no small way to shed light on some of the shifting patterns of medical health care needs in Kenya today. For instance in May this year at a WHO conference in Moscow, Health Minister the Hon. Anyang’ Nyongo’ revealed that over fifty percent of the hospital beds in Kenya are currently occupied by individuals suffering from lifestyle diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension and many more.

This simple fact marks a huge turning point in the history of this nation, because it puts us firmly in the category of countries whose healthcare burden and expenditure is greatly increasing at the cost of other relevant development programs such as education for our children.

Fortunately the capacity to make a difference and mitigate these rising statistics is within our reach, at little if any cost. For that reason I would like to contribute to this breast cancer awareness month by highlighting the growing body of medical evidence that confirms that better nutrition and a more active lifestyle can greatly help reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.

Physical Activity Reduces Risk

Given that some of the factors that have been demonstrated to affect a woman chances of developing breast cancer include genetic factors such as a family history of breast cancer, and lifestyle factors such as obesity, one of the biggest fronts in the war against breast cancer is the drive to encourage more women to eat better and move more. Several studies have documented the correlation between increased activity and reduced risk of breast cancer, including a recent study led by Dr. Marilie Gammon of the Columbia University, School of Public Health.

Obesity Increases Risk

One of the findings that have emerged from this new Breast Cancer Research is that obesity is a major contributing factor to the prevalence of breast cancer. The reason for this is because obesity is a huge determinant of the levels of the hormone estrogen, which is closely linked to breast cancer. It would appear that regular exercise of a low to moderate intensity could confer some kind of protection to most women by regulating the levels of this hormone in the body and thus hitting directly at the source of this particular type of cancer.

Another factor that has emerged is the correlation between weight gain in postmenopausal women and the prevalence of breast cancer. It seems that one of the most important things a woman can do to mitigate her risk of developing breast cancer is to maintain a healthy bodyweight, especially post menopause.

What kind of exercise helps?

When it comes to exercise, it is the little things that count. You need to aim to incorporate at least 30 minutes of light to moderate physical activity into you day, including such activities as Walking, Yoga, Swimming or attending an aerobics class where possible. The aim is to encourage an active lifestyle even outside the gym, including little lifestyle changes such as using the stairs as opposed to the lift or parking in one central area in town and running your errands on foot.

Working out regularly and living a physically active lifestyle will also have several benefits outside of breast cancer prevention, including a lower incidence of hypertension and other heart diseases, bone diseases such as osteoporosis and metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Now that the battle to fight cancer in Kenya is receiving a bigger share of press time, it is crucial that every woman in Kenya makes the effort to eat better and move more. The more effort that is made to encourage Kenyans to exercise regularly and eat healthy, the greater the chance we have of defeating breast cancer in our lifetime!

Have an active week will you!

The Healthy Eater’s Guide To Cooking Oils

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Which Cooking Oils Are Healthiest?

By Raymond Onyango.

Like most men on the planet, my cooking knowledge and abilities have largely been confined to the basics. I know how to put together a simple meal, Ugali, Pasta, Rice, Meat Stew, Chicken or maybe Sukuma Wiki, but I had never really learned the finer points of haute cuisine. For instance I am only just beginning to appreciate how various flavors and spices combine together to make a balanced meal. I have recently learned to incorporate various textures into a dish to make it complete, and most surprisingly, I have most interestingly come to learn that you need different types of cooking oils for different purposes.

Now the great majority of us have been primed to think of oil as essentially unhealthy and something to be largely avoided, but as any knowledgeable chef will tell you; the flavor is in the oil. Contrary to popular assumptions, the human body actually derives several benefits from the oils we consume in our foods. For example, Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids; necessary for human health but which the body cannot produce on its own. Omega -3 oils are known to play a crucial role in brain function, as well as normal growth and development especially in children. These oils found mainly in fish, and certain plant or nut derived cooking oils, have also been demonstrated to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis owing to their unique anti inflammatory properties.

The question is, which kind of oil is healthy? The answer to this will depend on what you intend to do with the oil in the first place.  There are three basic types of cooking oils, namely -Polyunsaturated Oils, Monosaturated Oils and Saturated Oils. All three behave very differently when subjected to heat during the cooking process.

Polyunsaturated oils

These are some of the most common oils in the market, and the one’s that a great majority of Kenyans use to cook. Polyunsaturated oils come mainly from plant sources such as Corn.

These kinds of oils are best for cooking at low to medium temperatures, such as when you need to lightly sauté a fish fillet or some vegetables. However most polyunsaturated fats contain toxic substances that are released when they are heated and therefore you should never use vegetable oil to deep fry your potato chips, chicken or any other food.  Scientific research has shown that polyunsaturated oils tend to form unhealthy trans fats when subjected to high heat. Trans fats are also created when hydrogen is added to a vegetable oil changing it from a liquid to a more solid form such as margarine. These trans fats have been credibly proved to increase the levels of LDL – the bad cholesterol and reduce levels of HDL – the good cholesterol, making them a leading cause of heart diseases. Solid forms of Vegetable oil, such as margarine and Shortening Fats are particularly considered very dangerous for your health.

Monosaturated Oil

Monounsaturated oils are very rich in antioxidants, such as Vitamin E and other important nutrients such as Oleic acids and Omega 3 fatty acids, making them much healthier for your heart. The best monounsaturated oils are cold pressed meaning that the oil is extracted without heat, and good examples of this are –

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the highest quality of olive oil, which preserves the naturally occurring antioxidants found in olives. This is the purest olive oil and also the most expensive, which makes it a luxury for most of us. It is excellent for salad dressings, but should not be used for cooking, because it has a low smoke point and disintegrates easily.
  2. Sunflower oil, Peanut oil, Avocado Oil – These contain high levels of Vitamin E and monosaturated fatty acids similar to olive oil. They are a great choice for stovetop cooking and stir-frying, but should not be used for deep-frying.

Saturated Oils

Saturated oils have taken a bashing from health professional for years, and have often been singled out as one of the more dangerous kinds of oil. Strictly speaking this is not true, because research has shown that Saturated fats raise both the levels of good and bad cholesterol, and whiles some studies may suggest that their consumption increases the risk of colon and prostate cancers, other studies suggest that lauric acid, a compound occurring in saturated oils such as Coconut and Palm Oil actually strengthens your immune system.

The jury may still out on this one, but the fact is you cannot always choose the healthiest oil for cooking because the suitability of any cooking oil, depends on its smoke point or the point at which heated oil begins to emit smoke, and flavor altering odors. As a general rule of thumb, the higher an oils smoke point, the better it is for high heat cooking such as deep-frying.

Saturated oils such as Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, Butter and Ghee are the most heat stable oils you can find your kitchen, meaning they can be used at very high temperatures without breaking down and creating toxic elements. This fact alone might negate some of their more negative side effects.

As we have seen the correct use of cooking oils, for the right purpose will aid your overall health, reduce inflammation and protect your heart. Three points to take home with you are to steer clear of Hydrogenated Oils at all costs. Choose Cold –Pressed Unrefined oils whenever possible and avoid heating oils to very high temperatures. You will be healthier for it.

Have a health conscious week will you!

The Science Of Stretching

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Everything you need to know about it!

By Raymond Onyango.

 In recent years, stretching has emerged as a key factor in the improvement of physical performance at the most elite levels of professional sport. Where stretching was once something athletes did as an afterthought and quite often – not at all, today stretching techniques such as yoga are practiced by the most unlikely of sports teams including basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers, Rugby’s New Zealand All Blacks, as well as a host of talented individual athletes such as the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, who have strode the tennis rankings like a colossus over the last decade winning 18 major titles between them.

Improves Athletic Performance

A growing body of research evidence that links regular stretching to improved athletic performance and lower susceptibility to injury, is the primary driving force behind this huge explosion of interest in stretching and stretch based forms of exercise such as yoga. It is how ever not just elite athletes alone who are taking up the cue and incorporating regular stretching into their training programs, in my own yoga classes everybody from pregnant mums-to-be, senior citizens, amateur road runners and avid weight lifters are hitting the mat in an effort to loosen up and improve their range of motion or get rid of niggling pain from tight lower backs and hamstrings.

Avoid Injury While Stretching

Along with this growing interest in stretching however is the growing concern that an increase in stretching related injuries is bound to follow unless we fitness professionals take the initiative to educate the general public about the do’s and don’ts of stretching and use of safe, effective and proven methods, that side step the possibility of doing damage as opposed to good.

Whenever you attempt to stretch any muscle, there are two forces primarily at work – the muscle spindles and the Golgi tendon organ.  These two specialized organs are muscle receptors, that provide information about the length and tension of the muscle to which they are attached, and thus help the body to maintain posture – without them balance and simple actions such as walking would be a physical impossibility.  The muscle spindles are small sensory organs that are found in several locations within our muscles and their job is to trigger the muscle to contract. A great example of the muscle Spindles in action can be observed when you watch a man dozing off to sleep while seated in a chair. The moment he nods off and his head drops, the muscle spindles sense this change of posture, and spring into action causing him to involuntarily jerk his head back up. The Golgi Tendon organs on the other hand are located in the tendons that attach the muscle to the bone. Here they monitor changes in the tension of the muscle that comes from a change in muscle length. When the tendon or muscle is stretched to a certain degree, they send a message to the brain telling the muscle to relax. This is very useful in preventing injury.

Its All About Technique

The key to effective stretching lies in successfully manipulating the relationship between the muscle spindles and the Golgi tendon organ.  Static or hold stretching is probably the most commonly used flexibility technique and is very effective and safe. With this technique a muscle is gradually stretched to the point of limitation and then held in that position for 15 to 30 seconds, before relaxing and repeating again. Accompanied by deep slow breathing, this stretching technique allows you to influence the deployment of the golgi organ tendon, which inhibits the muscle spindles and allows the true stretch to take place, deep within the muscle fibers.

Unfortunately I still see far to many people stretching with short, jerky and bouncing movements, a technique known as ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching has been demonstrated to not only be ineffective but also downright dangerous. The reasoning behind this is that the jerky movements engaged in this technique of stretching actively encourage the deployment of the muscle spindles – whose job is to get the muscle to contract – thus negating any benefit to the stretch. Beyond that, this contractile impulse precipitated by the muscle spindles, working in opposition to the stretching force applied by the individual in question, immensely contributes to the possibility of tearing or straining a muscle or ligament – not quite the sort of outcome we are looking for!

Warm Up First

Other cardinal rules observe when stretching are that muscles must never be stretched when cold. Heat greatly increases the levels of elasticity of the muscle tissues and allows you to increase your range of motion with reduced risk of injury. It might make more sense to relegate your stretching to the end of your exercise activities when your body is at its warmest and therefore most pliable state.  Further to this you must breath deeply and slowly while holding each stretch, as this calms down the nervous system and reduces opposition to the stretch allowing you to gradually increase you range of motion to much greater levels. Stretching must also be done on a daily basis, once or twice a week will simply not suffice, especially if you are involved in muscle building activities such as weight lifting or endurance activities such a running. A brief stretching session after each workout must be a scheduled part of your time management, if you hope to keep training injury free for years to come.

Have a flexible week will you!


Sugar

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Suicide In A Spoon

By Raymond Onyango.

 The ongoing sugar shortage and its looming absence from supermarket shelves countrywide, continues to be a huge source of concern for the great majority of Kenyans. The resulting fear over the potential lack of the commodity has led to panic buying and many retail outlets have resorted to instituting limits on the amount of sugar a single customer can buy, if only to help guarantee supply. This is hardly surprising when you consider that according to the World Health Organization, the average Kenyan consumes 21 kilograms of sugar in a year. Break that down into 52 weeks in a year and you have an average consumption of about half a kilogram per Kenyan, per week – more than twice the average of the neighboring countries ofUganda and Tanzania.

Is Too Much Sugar Making Us Sick? 

It would seem that this elevated consumption of sugar is steadily beginning to affect our collective health as a nation. In fact at an international conference in Russia, in May this year, the minister for Medical Services, Professor Anyang’ Nyongo’ was quoted saying that almost half of all the hospital beds in this country are occupied by people suffering from lifestyle diseases – including high blood pressure and diabetes. Within the next decade, he estimates that the number of people seeking medical care for such lifestyle induced conditions will far outstrip all other ailments in the country’s health care system – a truly dire prognosis.In fitness circles sugar has been variously described as the biggest dietary scrooge of our time – quite literally suicide in a spoon – resulting from the numerous health conditions precipitated by uncontrolled sugar intake.  Refined sugar does not actually qualify to be called food – it is a chemical. During the production process, all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and virtually every aspect of nutritional value is removed – all that is left is empty calories!

The Relationship Between Sugar, Insulin & Mood Disorders

It is with these empty calories that the real trouble begins. The Glycemic Index is a measure used to describe the effect of various foods on the body’s blood sugar levels. Each food is given a specific rating. The lower the rating, the slower the digestion process and the release of sugar into the blood stream. Any food with a higher rating will cause your Pancreas to release a hormone known as Insulin into the blood, to help combat the higher glucose levels and lower them. More sugar, means more insulin, which in turn promotes fat storage and obesity. Obesity as you well know by now, is closely associated with increased incidence of several lifestyle related diseases – especially high blood pressure and adult onset diabetes.Beyond just making you fat however, sugar also has a much immediate effect on your energy levels and overall productivity as an individual. Refined sugar intake usually leads to an energy rush, also known as a sugar high, but this is eventually followed by a virtual crash in energy levels as your body releases insulin into the blood stream to balance out your sugar levels. There is also increasing evidence that sugar also makes your blood thicker and stickier, inhibiting oxygen transport to the brain and working muscles and actually diminishing athletic performance. Perhaps the biggest questions regarding the effect of sugar on our health arise when discussing mood behavior in children and sugar. Many parents are aware that sugar can dramatically affect the behavior of a child, and in recent times there has been a lot of research that would seem to corroborate the incidence of conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to the excessive consumption of sugar by underage children.  You only need to attend a birthday party for a group of 5 year olds, where they are serving cake, ice cream and soda. Take note of what you see there and then come back and disagree with me if you choose!

Healthy Eating? Think Again!

Ironically one of the things that is driving this huge increase in our sugar intake is the growing obsession with ‘ healthy eating’. Sugar appears in the places where you least expect it.  Over the last decade or so, many food manufactures are moving away from traditional cane sugar and transitioning into high fructose corn syrup.  This change has occurred mostly because in the attempt to stay health conscious and reduce the levels of saturated fat in our food, producers are now replacing the fat with sugar. You will find sugar in everything from tomato sauce, baked beans, potato chips and even fruit juice. For this reason it is prudent to read food labels carefully if only to educate yourself on what it is that you are actually consuming.One last thing to bear in mind, the next time you’re craving a candy bar or a soda is that your immune systems rely on our white blood cells to remove invaders from our bloodstream though a process known as phagocytosis.  Sugar has been demonstrated to lower this activity significantly – depressing your immune system and leaving you more susceptible to disease. So there you have it, sugar does not only make you fat, slow and unfit, it also makes you sick and cranky.  Reason enough perhaps, that you should use this ongoing shortage as the perfect excuse to review your sugar consumption habits.

Have a sugar free weekend will you!

Bare Bones

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Keys to help you maintain healthy bones

By Raymond Onyango.

 One of the greatest miracles of mother – nature is that life occurs where you least expect it. Your bones for instance are living tissue even though they may not seem like it. They have blood vessels, nerves and bone marrow where all of your blood cells are created. The human body is constantly tearing down and building various bones in your body all the time, though the action of a group of highly specialized cells known as Osteoblasts and Osteoclasts.

Osteoblasts are the builders, they make collagen and hydroxypatite the basic building blocks of bone tissue. Osteoclasts on the other hand are a separate group of larger cells whose function is to dissolve bone by acting on the mineral matrix. They  secrete various acids and enzymes, which break down collagen and dissolve the bone structure. This constant tearing down and rebuilding is what keeps our bones healthy and stands in the way of degenerative bone conditions such as osteoporosis and arthritis.

In his iconic book, Gun’s Germs and Steel, author Jared Diamond makes note of how the discovery of antibiotics greatly increased the lifespan of the average human being. But living longer also means that we are using our joints long beyond what nature had perhaps originally intended. As a testament to this fact perhaps, half or all women and at least a quarter of all men currently walking the planet will experience first hand, the ravages of bone disease and its limiting impact on an individuals life. One of the primary reasons for this is the fact that your most active bone making stage lies between age 20 and 30 – around which time you reach peak bone density.

From here on the only way to go is downhill. It made news headlines on major networks mid last year, when actress and mother Gwyneth Paltrow announced to the world that she had been diagnosed with Osteopenia, a precursor to the brittle bone disease Osteoporosis. The problem was diagnosed in a bone scan after she suffered a leg fracture. Her doctors tested her vitamin D levels, which turned out to be extremely low a fact several experts attributed to the endless dieting that comes with Hollywood stardom. But Gwyneth Paltrow is only 37 and this is what should get the alarm bells ringing in your head. It could just as well be you!

Eat Better

At the very forefront of your bone conservation efforts, should be a diet rich in leafy green vegetables and fruit. Greens give you calcium, Vitamin K, Potassium and other important minerals; your body needs to lay down bone tissue.   You also need vitamin D to aid proper bone mineralization. One of the largest sources of vitamin D is sunlight, although you do absorb some through the stomach by way food. Vitamin D has many other important functions in the body. For instance vitamin D helps to maintain normal blood levels of calcium by promoting calcium absorption in your intestines. An adequate amount of Vitamin D is important to keep young children from developing rickets or bowlegs, as they are commonly known.

Move More

Your bones will get stronger if you use them more. It is one of those medical conundrums. Simply resting the entire weight of your body on your legs when jogging or walking around the neighborhood in the evening will give your body the signal to lay down more bone material to reinforce your bones. Women especially need to embrace strength training with open arms in the fight against bone disease.  In the last decade no less that two- dozen studies have been published highlighting the positive relationship between strength training and greater bone density.

Beyond this is the fact that strength training helps us to enhance the structural integrity key weight bearing joints such as the knees, hips and lower spine. Without the adequate strength conditioning, you can almost be assured of developing problems with your joints at some stage in your life.

 If you want to stay healthy and independent well into your old age, you need to begin to lay a firm foundation right this moment. It is never too late to begin; if anything numerous studies have proven that even subjects in their 80’s can still improve their bone density through regular exercise.  Huge compound movements such as squats, Lunges, Push Ups, Pull Ups and Dips Should comprise the backbone of any successful strength-training program. Virtually every one of these can be done from the comfort of your own home without the need for any equipment whatsoever. All that’s left is for you to get started!

Have a brilliant week will you!

Stress As A Trigger For Disease

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How exercise can help you cope!

By Raymond Onyango.

One of the inevitable consequences of the rapid urbanization the world has gone though in the last four or five decades is that life has by and large become much more stressful. Everyday, in every way we encounter stress, in the form of financial pressure to meet our obligations, pressure to exceed performance targets in the workplace or win a promotion, and several other social pressures that consistently keep our minds occupied from one day to the next. This constant exposure to high levels of stress naturally has its consequences including a growing body of scientific evidence that seemingly identifies stress as a key trigger leading to the onset of several lifestyle related diseases.

So what really happens when a person is exposed to chronic stress? Stress can be defined scientifically as the non-specific response of the body to any demands made upon it. Your body is hardwired to respond to stress in ways that were originally designed to protect you from predators and other aggressors. When you encounter a stressful situation with your boss at work for instance – your hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of your brain prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenalin – a stress hormone. Adrenalin elevates your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and gives you an initial boost of energy. Your body also produces another hormone called cortisol, which increases sugars in the blood stream, increases your body’s sugar uptake and suppresses non essential functions such the immune, digestive and reproductive systems.  It also influences centers in your brain that control your mood, making you more aggressive and temperamental and possibly confrontational.

All this is great in the short term, if the objective is merely to overcome a potentially dangerous situation, but when it becomes a way of life as it indeed is for a growing majority of us, the consequences can be far reaching and potentially devastating. A common disease directly linked to stress is Hypertension or high blood pressure.  Other conditions linked to stress include high cholesterol levels; Irritable bowel syndrome and suppressed immunity to disease just to mention a few.  If you look at photographs of busy World leaders such as US president Barrack Obama, you can also clearly see how constant exposure to high stress can cause you to age rapidly. In just over four years in the white house, Barrack Obama has noticeably grown a robust head of grey hair, thanks to the intense demands of the office.

Exercise Helps

Exercise is one of the tools that has been proven to have a positively counteractive effect on the body to the ravages of stress. The main reason for this has to do with a certain class or hormones known as Endorphins.  Endorphins are produced when we exercise and they trigger a positive feeling of euphoria, known in fitness circles as the ‘runners high’.  This is perhaps the main reason why people who exercise regularly have a much more positive attitude towards life and greater capacity to process and cope with stress.

Beyond the production of feel good hormones, exercise has other far-reaching effects on your life as far as stress is concerned. Exercise provides a healthy outlet for emotional stress, that would other wise contribute to the misuse of substances such as alcohol and tobacco as coping mechanisms. Instead of heading for the nearest bar after work to drown your sorrows, you can go out and play a game of squash as a much more constructive and healthy outlet for what ever frustration or aggression you may have had to deal with that day.

The Dangers Of Alcohol As A Coping Mechanism

 Alcohol is a suppressant, meaning that it depresses central nervous system and induces lethargy, sluggishness and brings down your mood. Remember that when you are stressed your body is already pumped full of the hormone cortisol, which as we saw earlier, also depresses your mood as well as suppressing you immune, digestive and reproductive systems. What this means is that alcohol and stress are not great bedfellows. If anything increasing your consumption of alcohol in response to increased stress levels can only serve to hasten the onset of several lifestyle related conditions including obesity, high cholesterol. High blood pressure, liver cirrhosis and diabetes type 2 among several others.

Because stress is a constant part of our lives in this modern world, it is important that we equip our children with the means to cope with it positively and competently without recourse to short term solutions such as alcohol and tobacco.  Basic Physical education and Nutrition skills must continue to be a part of our basic primary school education, so that children can learn from an early age, how to live a healthy and physically active life.

Have a stress free week will you!

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