Yoga is a centuries old art that uses specific postures and breathing techniques intended to provide those who practice it with physical health benefits that include increased flexibility, stamina, strength, muscle tone as well as mental-psychological benefits such as improved concentration, relief of tension and inner calm.

One learns and practice in groups or alone a series of postures which are held briefly or for longer periods. One can practice yoga in groups, usually for an hour or less or individually, sometimes for no more than 10 minutes or so, usually in the morning. Yoga, even for only a few minutes after arising, can ease soreness associated with sleeping in awkward positions as well as calm the mind and provide a degree of emotional balance with which to start one’s day.

One usually practices before breakfast, moving slowly, waking the body gently. For some physical conditions for which one often or generally avoids most exercise yoga can be practiced except that a number of yoga positions are to be avoided.

One usually starts with relatively simple, non-stressful poses: cat and dog tilts for example.  Some will try to add the treading the needle or puppy do positions at an early stage. One then often proceeds to warrior 1 or a victory pose and develop proper warrior breathing. In a second stage simple and advanced twist positions, both sitting or lying on one’s back, are learned as well as the so-called  sphinx and cobra positions.  The downward dog, dolphin, and other positions may be regarded as more strenuous and thus attempted later in the work out, the triangle pose as well as the child pose. The latter is often used as a resting pose in which the back muscles are stretched in a restful way.

There are many additional poses which offer challenging positions to those who go beyond the beginning stages as of yoga. You can look into them individually or study them first in beginning classes or in later intermediate or advanced classes.

On Dietary Change When You Begin Exercising

While you are getting your exercise program going, trying different ideas and getting accustomed to exercising every day, a little discussion about diet is in order. It ‘s important for those who are just beginning to exercise that just as you are beginning to take on new exercise routines  slowly  so also you should change hour diet slowly, yet not too slowly.

Several ideas or strategies should be kept in mind: (1) Change from eating larger meals to smaller ones, indeed snacking  5 – 6 times a day instead of eating larger meals 2 – 3 times a day. (2) Eliminate junk foods and emphasize more protein and fiber at the expense of carbohydrate and fat. This means eliminating or reducing drastically your intake of of starchy,  processed foods. (3) In the beginning it’s important to keep the changes simple. Add oatmeal for breakfast, mixed with dried fruits and nuts and perhaps a little raw honey. Pour over a bed of mixed fruits (3-4 different ones). Preferably the fruits should have high antioxidant content and be low in glycemic index. Examples include kiwi! blueberries! dark red or black grapes, raspberries, and so on. You can make your own list.

(4) Alternative breakfasts can include mixtures of yogurt, added cut-up fresh fruits, dry high-protein grain cereals or a high protein smoothie prepared from a mixture of fruits, juice, yogurt and protein powder.

(5) Snacks can include vegetables, fruits, almonds or some other nuts, low fat cheeses on a minimum number of crackers.

(6) Lunches can be salads topped with some tuna, salmon or alternative fish, or poultry ( chicken or turkey). You can add a wide variety of vegetables, some fruits as well as nuts. You can add slices of freshly cooked hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese , slices of cheddar or other cheeses.  You can tire of salads easily unless to interject substantial variety into them. You need not have salad each day, but you should have a mixture of raw vegetables together perhaps with some chicken or fish. The side can be several slices of tomatoes over a few lettuce leaves.

(7) Dinner can include fish, chicken preferably boiled or roasted plus several vegetables.  Mixtures of vegetables only can be backed in a squash with some cooked wild rice mixed in. Over time you will find that preparing soups ahead of time and having a small bowl of lunch or even for a snack is an option. Eat mainly high protein, dark multigrain breads, but not in high quantity. Drink plenty of water each day.

General Fitness Classes

Many gyms have a variety of fitness classes available at various times of day. My own predisposition has been to attend classes in general fitness. These are mostly classes that include a general warm up of most muscle groups and aerobic exercise at the beginning. This include as general self assessment of heart rate at the beginning when one is getting warmed up through movement exercises, moving arms, legs, hips, torso and so on. Doing so as a group led by an exercise instructor is useful, and little thinking or planning is involved. There’s no standing around talking or resting. It’s an all out effort usually to the tune of some music and a smiling instructor asking occasionally: “how’s your heart rate now?” It’s all mindless, and one is usually guided through numerous exercises in which eventually every muscle in the body moves. That’s a big plus for a beginner who has not yet had a lot of experience planning his or her own exercise routines.

In addition to comprehensive, low intensity work-out using many more of the body’s muscles than you might use on your own, instructors will generally guide you through balance exercises as well as stretching exercises. The latter will tend to come near the end of the work out.

After the first 15 minutes of warm ups are completed a 2-3 min Tai-Chi exercise is often initiated. This calms the heart a bit, reducing rate of blood flow. It also get you ready for phase two which includes small weights, usually only something in the 3-8 pound range. If you have never done such an exercise class before, use the smaller weights or even the smallest available. Instructor will guide you through exercises with many repetitions and the weights will generally start to feel rather toward the end of a particular exercise segment. In general, instructors are able to make use of dumb-bells to guide participants through exercise for the arms, shoulders, chest, back, core (abdominal), and leg muscles. Sub-routines for each of those muscle groups can sometimes be part of particular exercise class on Monday, but you may not see it again until Friday. In this way, instructors guide participants through many different exercise over time and those who attend regularly have the benefits of a total body workout.

After working with weights many instructors will go back to general exercise routines in the first part, though not in the same order. The purpose is to give the heart an opportunity to elevate again, not excessively but enough to get the blow flow rate up and perhaps develop a mild to moderate sweat. Toward the end of this routine many instructors will initiate a moderate Tai-Chi routine with some stretching of abdominal, torso and back muscles emphasized. Many instructors will add balance-practicing routines at this stage. Afterwards, extended stretching of both upper and lower body will tend to complete the work out.

Many instructors will have at least two water breaks built into the one hour long class. It is, of course, necessary to stay hydrated during exercise routines of any duration whether you are doing them in a well-thought through class or on your own in the gym.

Fitness classes with heavier weights to build greater strength are also available at most gyms, yet these are not advisable for those just beginning. Classes that emphasize cycling are also generally available as are yoga classes. The latter, indeed fit well with general conditioning classes of the kind described above. However, yoga for beginners should be considered by those who are just getting started in a serious strength conditioning program. In particular yoga helps with flexibility, by helping to break the adhesions that stiffen the joints, thus measurably improving flexibility. Strength, flexibility and balance are extremely important particularly as we age.

Developing the Right Exercise Program For You

Muscle Training: At the beginning any heavy lifting with weights should be avoided. Small size weights (2-10 pounds) with small number of repetitions for each exercise offers a good place to start. You can join an exercise group, join a gym which will have professionals skilled at weight training and other forms of exercise, or you can develop your own program working from descriptions and photos or videos of workouts shown on various Internet sites that are not difficult to find. Gradually you will pick up the pace and develop a specific program emphasizing different muscle groups on different days of the week.

Try to do a 20 min workout with weights three times a week at the beginning. You can emphasize two muscle groups for each of the three sessions. For example, on day one you can emphasize arms and shoulders; day two, chest and back and on day three, core and leg muscles. Arms, shoulders, back and chest muscles can be done with dumb bells or bar bells. So can core and leg exercises, but with both core and leg muscles you have many more options. There are a substantial number of core exercises such as crunches, sit-ups, plank, side-bends and so-forth that can be done with and without weights. Many of these can be combined with a small of large heavy ball held in the hands. Read in othere Internet sites about the use of the “medicine ball” and the “Swiss ball.”

For legs, in addition to various resistance machines in gyms, you can use both dumb bells and bar bells as well. However, during our waking hours we use our leg muscles nearly all the time when we are walking about or running or cycling. When getting started as I noted in yesterday’s blog post a half mile to a one mile walk each morning or evening will harden up the leg muscles substantially over the first month of your new exercise routine. Gradually, you can add some running to the daily routine or you can ride a bike. Either of these strategies will increase your use of specific leg muscles that are used not quite as much in simple walking. It is not uncommon to develop cramps in specific leg muscles if your approach this phase of activity with greater zeal than you should at the outset. Once again, start slow and pick this up the pace as you become used to the workout.

Eventually, you can walk or run or run-walk or simple fast walk 4-5 miles a day. This may take about an hour or less. Humans walking at a fast pace will walk about 4 miles and hour. At a relatively leisurely pace 2.8-3.0 miles per hour is easily achieved.

If you want to monitor your walking independently various devices are available which will help you keep track of your steps, mileage and/or calories burned during the walk. The best of these in my view is a FitBit, that is worn on your wrist. It may linked to your computer, tablet or phone to keep tabs on the numbers of steps or miles walked as well as the numbers of calories burned each time you go our for a walk. You computer will keep track of everything, even the number of steps taken each time you go to the bathroom during the night.

Another alternative to keep track of the leg exercises is to use a treadmill. You can vary the speed and most treadmills will monitor heart rate and allow you to go at a “fat burn” pace which is 60 percent of your maximum age-adjusted heart rate or a little faster up to about 80 percent of maximal heart rate for briefer periods. In the latter case, slowly working up to an 80 percent rate after about 12-15 minutes and staying there for 3-5 minutes is an excellent invigorating exercise that will keep the heart muscles fit. Once you are in pretty good shape from a combination of weight loss and exercise you may want to try this (provided your heart is generally healthy and your physician agrees). I personally do this 2-3 times a week. In addition, these strategies on the treadmill represent an alternative to the other walking, running or other leg exercise routines noted above, and should not be done in addition. You may also wish to substitute some of the above leg weight training with cycling.

During all resistance training with weights as well as roadwork, drink plenty of water. A rule of thumb is 6-8 oz glasses of water for one who is at or near optimal weight. Initially though, if you are over weight then add an additional 8 oz glass of water for each 5 pounds you are overweight. Thus, if you are 20 pounds overweight and on an exercise program approximated by the above, you should drink about 10-8 oz glasses of water (or about 80 oz of water a day) Coffee and tea and all other liquids consumed during the day should not be counted as part of this total.

In general, you should eat sensibly consuming relatively more protein and fiber at the expense of carbohydrate and fat. Drink small amounts of coffee or tea and no caffeinated soft drinks if possible. Keep your consumption of alcohol down as well. We’ll come back to dietary issues in a subsequent blog post.

Getting Into Shape — Getting Started

We don’t really take our health as seriously as we should, and in the modern era we find ourselves in a dilemma. We tend to eat too much of the wrong kinds of food. We fall ill from nutritional deficiencies, we gain weight, often to excess, and we fall ill from one of a number of chronic diseases. Each of these evolves from imbalances created by our improper dietary habits. Modern humans are thus falling ill in increasing numbers from diabetes, heart disease and cancer and other maladies at a time when medicine has evolved effective treatments for them. Life expectancy even for serious cases of these disorders have increased, but many times people still die prematurely. All this notwithstanding, life expectancy for modern humans in most advanced countries, not still plagued by serious infectious disease, has increased substantially.

In America and in some of the countries of western Europe, serious efforts to adjust diets and to improve the activity profile of the populous may show us a way to reduce the incidence of such chronic diseases. Eating more fruits and vegetables, and increasing protein and fiber in the diet in relative terms, are approaches to decreasing the relative excess intake of carbohydrate. These dietary adjustments can have a major impact especially when combined with a sensible exercise program that evolves from modest to more intense efforts over time.

To get started just eat less and exercise more. If you are 30-50 or more pounds overweight and have sedentary habits, it won’t be easy. Start slow with both diet and exercise programs. Cut out the sweets and junk foods, especially those with high calorie density (more calories per bite). Increase chicken & fish at the expense of fatty red meats, and increase fiber (oatmeal, beans and other grains). Eat low blood-sugar-producing fruits and vegetables at the expense of starchy vegetables. Also, drink plenty of water. Reduce portion sizes from the outset and eat smaller amounts 5-6 times a day instead of larger amounts 1-3 times a day. If you want to count calories you can, but the most effective strategy is to weight in once a week or once a month and keep track of your weight reduction progress. You want to lose something like 5-6 pounds a month. Over time you’ll be losing less weight on a monthly basis until you reach your goal.

Exercise is exceptionally important. During weight loss without exercise you will naturally lose both fat and muscle. The exercise routine is intended to put your skeletal muscle back into shape and add more to it than is taken away by the weight loss process. You also need protein in the diet to help compensate for the protein lost during weight loss. Start slow by using small weights at first. Later, weight size will increase. The intent is to develop routines to exercise the arms, shoulders, back, chest and the abdominal region, both front and back (often called the core region) and finally the legs. Combine your weight exercise routine with walking or cycling to work the legs/lower body. You can also work on improving your flexibility with stretches or a yoga class. We’ll come back and look at the exercise program in much more detail in a later blog post.

Blog Entries for 2015

In 2012, I started in earnest making daily entries into this blog. I decided on twelve separate topics to write about daily and I did that for the entire year of 2012. It was a good discipline, a way to think things through. I wrote on one topic each month.

Even though many of us think we have ideas straight in our minds, often we do not. I am not suggesting we delude ourselves into thinking we have a clear idea of some thought we have previously worked through, but it is true that if we try to write out the main elements of the idea we think we firmly understand, we invariably clarify some parts of it and we are often surprised by what comes pouring out onto the page.

Thus, the process of writing out an essay on a idea or topic we thought had been pretty well worked over and sorted out is, almost invariably, a humbling experience. What we know after the fact is often so much more than we knew in the beginning. Indeed, it gives us cause to wonder whether we had really ever previously thought through the idea when we began writing.

This is a confession I have not previously made in these pages. Thus, The reader is now warned that the writer may have not known very much about what he was talking about when he began to write the essays which will now appear daily throughout the coming year. However, the reader will hopefully learn something from the finished products, but perhaps not as the writer learned in their construction.

This month I will write about various approaches I have developed to maintain and improve on personal fitness. I think this is an incredibly important topic generally, especially in a population that is aging. Some say we are not aging well, but that is an individual matter. Here I will look at the issue from a personal perspective, and from every angle that has become important to me over the course of the last several years. You can take what lessons you may find valuable from these pages over the next month and apply them in your own lives or not. That’s something which is up to you. If you try some things and find them valuable you can add a comment at the end of the relevant essay. Your comments can be general or specific. Your comment be easily made, and while I can edit submitted comments, I rarely do. I encourage you to leave comments. It informs what we do. Issues that come up in the comments sections of daily posts I may take up more generally in subsequent essays — should I do that I will refer readers back to the part of the original comments that inspired the extended commentary. In can also just make a comment to the comment where it is posted.

Finally, I should say than most blog posts appearing daily this month and in subsequent months will be greater than 300 words but usually less than 1000 words in length. In general, each will be a fairly quick read. Have fun reading the posts, make a few notes and comment if you are motivated to do so.

Sausage Orzo Soup

This is a soup with a fantastic taste and it is easy to make.

First, dice the following ingredients into small pieces and sauté in a little olive oil:

5 large garlic cloves
3 stalks of celery
2 relatively large shallots
1/8 cup virgin olive oil

While the above are sautéed over a low to medium heat, add four large cut up hot chorizo sausages — a mixture of small and large cut fragments (not slices) is good. Add the sausage fragments to the above sautéed mixture and continue under medium heat stirring until everything is mixed. Add about a teaspoon of salt. After about 3-5 minutes reduce heat to simmer.

Cut 5-6 large tomatoes into quarters, deseed and peel off the skin. Cut the tomatoes further into smaller pieces and add to the sautéed-sausage mixture. Continue heating. Cut up a bunch of Swiss chard into small pieces after excising the red rib stems from the leaves and discarding. Add these to the soup mixture as well and stir everything together while continuing to heat on low-medium heat. Additional cut up vegetables can also sometimes be added at this stage (broccoli, asparagus and cut green beans are possibilities you can experiment with the second time you make the soup–for now just stick to the above noted ingredients). Add about 2-3 50 oz. cans of chicken stock (commercial or previously prepared by you from a chicken bone skeleton). Bring to a boil or and continue to stir. Add a little more salt, but not much. It will be hard to evaluate the taste at this phase so don’t bother to taste. The soup seem rather peppery due to the sausage.

Add at least two cups of tricolored orzo ànd bring everything to a rolling boil, keeping it there for about 20 minutes. Add a tablespoon each of dried parsley, dill and oregano. Reduce heat and stir in the spices. The orzo will continue to swell over the next 10-15 minutes and will soak up some of the excess pepper. The added spices will gradually blend in and after the orzo swells maximally. You can add a little more chicken stock if the soup is too thick.

It’s ready to eat about 20 minutes after the orzo has swelled.