Bodies in Motion: Adaptive Athlete Overcoming Hurdles for Self & Others, Julia Seitz

How do you keep your body in motion? Do you body-build in the gym, take a light jog around the block, or use a track wheelchair for racing 400m dashes? Maria Velat, an eighteen-year-old quadriplegic athlete, has a drive for sports and nothing will stop her.

Ever since childhood, sports were part of Velat’s identity. She played soccer, ran cross country, skied, and sailed. “All of my family does sports, so it’s kind of always been a part of my life. Once I started school, I started joining teams,” Velat said.

Velat ran for the Houghton High School Gremlins in varsity as captain of her team. She consistently held places in the top of results for cross country races. In the 2018 season, she made a personal record of 20:27.3 for the Women’s 5,000 Meters Varsity.

It wasn’t until later in her sports career that Velat needed to change her approach. On October 2, 2019, Velat was transported to an Ann Arbor, Michigan hospital and diagnosed with transverse myelitis. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) explains transverse myelitis is spinal cord inflammation. The spinal cord is responsible for sending messages from the brain to our nerves and sensory information back to the brain. It tells our body how and where to move, for example when you need to move your fingers to grab a plate. Our skin can feel when a pan is hot because our nerves tell the brain about that sensation. Transverse myelitis interrupts this connection between the brain and nerves, and now that they can’t communicate, it will be hard for a person to move or feel.

The next step after hospitalization and recovery for Velat was returning to the field.

“I had to figure out a way to do sports kind of differently than I was used to. So, I found the world of adaptive sports,” said Velat. From running to hand-cycling, she found different ways to get back on the track through equipment such as track wheelchairs and sit-skis. She said adaptive sports are a different way to do sports but still in the same spirit.

“There are a lot of ups and downs with being disabled and fighting a system that isn’t really built for you, but once you have any small successes, it really helps bring you back up, and then you see that you can have more successes in the future.”

The change from running to wheels wasn’t the only hurdle Velat faced during her comeback. Michigan’s sports system itself presented quite a challenge. Velat learned she could participate in events but couldn’t score any points for her team.

A petition intended to change this Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) rule says, “Almost every state has some model in place to allow adaptive athletes the same opportunities for placing and advancement, but Michigan and thirteen other states do not.” Participating in a sport means being part of a team, and if you can’t contribute, you feel left out–a problem experienced by many para-athletes. 

Velat and other supporters pushed for a proposal to include adaptive athletes in races and to be able to score points for their teams.

The MHSAA responded to their efforts. On January 26, 2022, a MHSAA committee hearing concluded an adaptive category needs to be set up before adaptive athletes can earn points for teams. There was no consensus on allowing team scoring in this category, however, future discussion on this is being considered. In the meanwhile, MHSAA decided wheelchair athletes can compete in regionals and finals in a few events, but cannot score points. 

“I’m still pushing to have [races] be more inclusive and have an ambulatory category so that people with amputations or cerebral palsy can also be in finals, and also get that point system in place so it’s really being part of the team and not just running alongside it,” said Velat.

The Keweenaw Community SparkPlug Awards recognized Velat’s efforts to improve adaptive sports in her community, and she was nominated as the Youth Contributor of the Year. She urges others to become involved in their communities as well.

“There are lots of local programs. If there aren’t any local programs, it’s not that hard to just find adaptive equipment and get other people to start it,” Velat said. For example, the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) supports aspiring athletes with disabilities by lending aid and sports equipment. Velat’s community held a sled hockey clinic in which over a hundred people participated.

“If you see someone who you think might like adaptive sports, just let them know about it because they might not even know that it exists.”

Velat will take her ambitions to the University of Michigan and pursue medicine, specifically neurology. Inspired by her own experience, she wants to help people and learn more about how the brain and body work. She will also be part of the new adaptive track and field team, noting that very few colleges have an adaptive sports program.

“[The University of Michigan] has taken initiative in the local schools to get adaptive sports into the gym programs. I’m really hoping to get kids into it so they can start earlier,” said Velat. During college, she plans to continue working on the proposal to improve the MHSAA rules.

During hardships, Velat says it’s important to set a goal for yourself and work towards it. Training her body to do sports differently was a huge shift, and having family, friends, and the community support encouraged her to keep moving forward.

“Just consider other people’s situations, and if you find something you’re passionate about, just work towards that goal, especially if it’s something that can help you with your own health or helps other people.”

Julia Seitz is a Northern Michigan University student pursing a Bachelor of Arts. You’ll find her either writing creative fiction or researching a new fixation. She enjoys reading scary stories, but is too scared to watch horror movies.

Sources:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mBZww1p8EE&ab_channel=IAmAnAthleteToo
https://www.change.org/p/i-am-an-athlete-too-integrate-disabled-children-into-school-sports
https://www.keweenaw.org/sparkplug-awards/
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/transverse-myelitis-fact-sheet
https://my.mhsaa.com/portals/0/documents/BTR/commin22.pdf
https://www.glasa.org/

Excerpted from the Fall 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bodies in Motion: Moving Your Body & Perceptions to a New State of Wellness, Mohey Mowafy

weight bias, movement for health, healthy perspective on weight, physical fitness, UP holistic wellness publication, UP holistic business

We may or may not admit it, but we tend to judge people based on their appearance, particularly their body weight/size. Well, there is nothing in any appearance that should be used singularly to determine one’s health.

Back in 1975, I began developing a short, two-credit class about obesity. It was held on summer weekends at a camp that Northern Michigan University owned at the time. The paradigm I developed and taught turned out to be embarrassingly erroneous. Admittedly, I had fallen into the misperception that “if one is fat, everything is wrong about that one.”

A common bias that exists is to judge the entire personality of another human by their body weight, pretending we are simply worried about their health. Worse is the agonizing psychological pain that the overweight person must endure, believing it is all their fault. Admittedly, this is practiced far more fiercely against females than it is against males.

Fast forward to 1978, when I was attending a conference on the subject of obesity and eating disorders. One day, I wandered inside a room where the presenter’s talk convinced me that I had been wrong for so long. Her presentation stopped me dead in my tracks. I felt like I was perceiving the world through a new pair of soul lenses.

She was introducing a brand-new concept—that of “Health at Every Size,” a term later trademarked by the Association for Size Diversity and Health in 2003. Health at Every Size (HAES) opposes the idea that a person’s body weight and size is an accurate, full-picture representation of their health status. Naturally, I formed the NMU student organization “Good Health for All Sizes.” Yup, got the T-shirt to prove it! The concept rests on an enlightened assumption: A person’s health is much more nuanced than one single calculation.

Because we all have an internalized weight bias (applying negative stereotypes to ourselves and/or others),….

….ask yourself what “kind” of images of people you see in ads, on billboards, and in most of our films and series. Large folks are never portrayed as desirable. Yes, we have been doing better more recently. But how many people do you know who dismiss generous-size folks as far less than “okay”? Most of us believe that those who do not fit the “ideal” image have only themselves to blame because they must be lazy and gluttonous. Well, this might be true of some, but I assure you, not all. No wonder those with large sizes also adopt such a devastating belief! I was an obese child; I know.

Think of someone you know who has struggled with her/his weight all of their life, then ask yourself this question: Why is it that every time they starve themselves on a diet, they gain all the weight back plus a little more? Heaven knows, I tried to convince my sisters not to follow the unenlightened crowds, to no avail.

In my classes, or in any presentation to any group about this subject, I use a moment from the movie Gone with the Wind. When Scarlett went back to Tara, hungry and with no food in the mansion, she had to dig a potato from the ground. She swore “As God is my witness, I shall never be hungry again.” That is what our body tells us when we starve it. My stock answer when anyone asks me about a diet they want to follow to lose weight is this—“if you can live on it the rest of your life, go for it.”

So, if going on a diet is something we always do but it always fails us, or we fail it (96% of those who attempt to lose weight by “going on a diet” regain it, plus a few more pounds), consider a new possibility. The answer will not sound “conventional” to you, I am afraid. Try this to liberate your mind by considering a far more realistic paradigm to be healthy and yes, spunky. I have always asked my students to add to the list of health measurements one that I call “spunk.” Well, academically, it is called “activity.” It simply requires muscle movement, which the muscles were born to love. Seriously, when we are reasonably active, our muscles not only work, they work better, and they just love it! Science has shown that our muscles do not just move us around; they are also potent metabolic regulators on a cellular and sub-cellular level.

Moving our muscles need not be called exercise.

It’s okay if the word doesn’t frighten you. But if it does, just don’t call it anything. Moving need not be a chore and certainly oes not dictate a gym membership. My personal favorite now (or perhaps I should add, at my age), is walking. Yes, just walking. Ask those who walk. They not only feel alive, they have a special relationship with themselves (including their emotional/psychological/spiritual selves).

How about just dancing, even when no one is watching? It is much more fun when we act silly on purpose. And, how about finding some simple movements that you can do at home even while you are sitting if you need to? The idea of “use it or lose it” may apply very well here.

Finally, I would like to clarify that I am not advocating obesity if it is not a person’s normal state. Yes, it can be helpful to calculate Body Mass Index and waist size as a measurement of general health. But how we go about “fixing” it needs to become more enlightened than what has been typical so far.

Mohey Mowafy is a retired Northern Michigan University Professor. He graduated from the University Wisconsin (Graduate work at the Muscle Biology Institute and the Biochemistry Departments). He is married to Kristen Mowafy, and is the father of Adam Mowafy.

Excerpted from the Summer 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Heighten Your Health Span at Your Local Senior Center, Kevin McGrath

senior fitness, increasing your health span, healthy senior lifestyle, U.P. holistic business, U.P. holistic wellness publication

An old college friend recently told me he was shocked to see I had written an article for Health & Happiness’s Senior Viewpoint column. But after we spoke just a short while longer, he acknowledged that we both are now in our sixties.

Aging, after all, is something that naturally occurs over time. Our minds often are reluctant to accept the changes in our bodies until something happens that brings the aging process to the forefront. Aging takes place in our bodies every day of our life, whether we are aware of it or not.
According to the Mayo Clinic, staying healthy for the maximum number of years and keeping age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s to a minimum is key to a full and rich long life.

This full and rich long life is considered your health span. Your health span differs from your life span, which refers only to how long you live. Health span refers to qualify of life as opposed to duration of life.

The old view of aging, as Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School puts it, was that our bodies became like an old car that just starts to wear out and break down. The new view he describes is that our bodies are much more complicated than a car. Experiments and research have now shown we have genes call surtuins, a promising development regarding aging.

These surtuin genes can make you fitter with proper exercise and diet. They also occur naturally in the body. More research still needs to be done on surtuins, but medical researchers are excited about their early results. Activating and enhancing these genes may be the health span-promoting way of the future.

The basic key to healthy aging is a healthy lifestyle.

Eating a variety of nutritious foods, practicing portion control, and including physical activity in your daily routine can go a long way toward healthy aging. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that healthy adults include aerobic activity and strength training in their fitness plans.

The Mayo Clinic says starting a fitness program may be one of the best things you can do for your health. After all, physical activity can reduce your risk of chronic disease, improve your balance and coordination, help you lose weight, and even boost your self-esteem. Plus, these benefits typically can be achieved regardless of your age, gender, or current fitness level.

Finding the fitness program that best suits your needs is essential. In my own case, I always was very active practicing Vinyasa yoga, playing in basketball and volleyball leagues, as well as participating in Zumba classes. I needed to find a way to keep the intensity up without overdoing it. Injuries can create a major setback, so it’s important to prioritize avoiding them.

If you’re in the area, a good place to start is the Marquette Senior Center, where they have a slew of options. Maureen McFadden, the center’s manager, can steer you in the right direction depending on your abilities and desires.

I’ve attended the Hi-Low Group Fitness class now for just over a year where instructors Paula, Lynn, Sandy, and Diane alternate higher impact aerobic routines with other cardio routines, mixing in weight training, other floor exercises, and stretching for an excellent hour-long workout. The class is held three times a week in Marquette’s Baraga Gym, which offers plenty of space for the twenty to forty individuals who attend regularly.

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Kay Mitchell

Regular Kay Mitchell, who’s been attending these classes for about ten years, keeps coming back because she likes the “great high-intensity workout.” She says the instructors are awesome and make exercise fun. I wholeheartedly agree.

Another reason Kay continues to attend week in and week out is the friendships she has developed with others in the group. Anyone who has ever been part of a team sport, military squad, or any group that works hard to achieve a goal being physically active can understand the sense of camaraderie that develops when people share a common purpose.

Another important factor to consider is brain aging. Brain aging can be traumatic not just for the individual but also his/her family and loved ones. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia have become the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

Dr. Lewis Lipsitz of Harvard Medical School claims reducing cardiovascular risk factors through mental and physical exercises is key to reduce or slow brain aging. Use it or lose it. Oftentimes as we grow older, we tend to slow down, but all the latest studies show this is the time to increase your activities in those ways that work for you. The priority has now become, as Dr. Sinclair puts it, “keeping people younger for longer as opposed to keeping people older for longer.”

Most people don’t want to live longer if they can’t do much of anything. If our quality of life is good and we can live longer too, that’s icing on the cake. So get active if you aren’t already. And a good place to start is your local Senior Center.

Kevin McGrath can be found step touching on the grape vine of life.

Excerpted from the Spring 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bodies in Motion: PRCA-Cooling Cabin Fever & Empowering Kids

Parents, do you ever feel like your kids are climbing the walls, especially in the cold winter months? It’s common to spend more time cooped up inside once the snow starts to fly, though of course there are plenty of fun ways to get outside, such as skiing, snowshoeing, or building a snowman. A new way you could consider getting the kiddos out and moving is trying the sport of ice climbing—yep, an organized way to “climb the walls”!

The Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy, or PRCA for short, is a Michigan non-profit that provides low-cost rock and ice climbing opportunities to Upper Peninsula youth ages 7-18. They are based in Marquette and rock climb in the Marquette area in summer, and ice climb around Munising in the winter. The PRCA was established in 2016 when world-renowned alpinist Conrad Anker noticed no local kids were ice climbing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. At that year’s annual Michigan Ice Festival, money was fundraised to start the PRCA.

Since then, the PRCA has gone full steam ahead with all things climbing! The PRCA prides itself on providing not only climbing opportunities to those who might not otherwise have them, but also fostering community and stewardship for its members. From guided outdoor rock and ice climbing, volunteer opportunities at local events, weekly indoor group climbs during the school year, yoga, attending climbing festivals in the Midwest, and more, the PRCA provides unique experiences to UP youth. No gear or experience is required to climb with the PRCA, and membership costs are low, with scholarships available to those who need one.

For many, climbing is much more than just a sport—it’s a lifelong pursuit that connects them with wild places, a strong community, and opportunities to constantly learn. Climbing pushes you to trust yourself and those around you, constantly learn and adapt, and widen your comfort zone. Climbing also promotes positive mental and physical health, such as improved strength and balance, and higher feelings of self-sufficiency. The PRCA is run by volunteers with years of climbing experience who teach these values and experiences to UP youth. 

With climbing’s rising popularity, thanks to more gyms opening across the country and the sport being featured for the first time in the Olympics, it’s important to understand the mentorship aspect the sport has compared to other outdoor pursuits. Climbing is inherently dangerous, and historically was taught almost strictly through mentorship. These days people can get started climbing in the gym, through online videos, etc. While it’s great to have these more widely accessible resources available, without mentorship it’s possible to have gaps in knowledge and safety. The PRCA helps serve as a bridge for this mentorship gap.

Safety is the number one concern of the PRCA. All guided rock and ice outings are facilitated by Michigan Ice Fest Guides. These guides have taken and passed one or more guiding courses and assessments run by the internationally recognized and accredited American Mountain Guides Association. The PRCA teaches youth many things—climbing movement, gear use, anchor systems, belaying, and more—all adjusted to the age and experience level of the climbers participating. 

So, parents, if your kids are interested in a new way to recreate outside, face fears of heights, be more active in community stewardship, or just want to try something new, check out the Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy. 

To get involved with the PRCA, reach out through their website’s “Contact Us” page. If you’re over eighteen and would like to volunteer, don’t hesitate to reach out as well! 

Website: picturedrocksclimbingacademy.org
Facebook/Instagram: @picturedrocksclimbingacademy

Laura Slavsky (she/her) grew up in Marquette, MI and began climbing in 2014. She has guided ice climbing clinics at Michigan Ice Fest, is a Community Ambassador for the national climbing non-profit Access Fund, and has volunteered with the Pictured Rocks Climbing Academy since 2019.

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bodies in Motion: Listen In to Exercise Right, Heidi Stevenson

physical fitness, listening to your body, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication

We all want our exercise to be effective: we want it to be good for us, to improve our health, to make us stronger, inside and out. When choosing a way to exercise, we are presented with many options that take a “no pain, no gain” approach. This philosophy asks us to override discomfort. It asks us to ignore messages from our body.

Some disciplines, like yoga and Pilates, are described as “mindful movement.” In exercise like this, we are asked instead to listen to our bodies. Listening to our bodies does not mean backing off from hard work. Instead, it means finding options within different kinds of exercise that are effective without being detrimental. When we listen to our bodies, we try something, continue if it feels like good work, and cease if it feels uncomfortable or painful. This is key to effective exercise without injury. You really can work hard without feeling pain if you listen. Your body will tell you what it needs.

But to listen to your body, you need to respectfully acknowledge exactly what is there, in that moment, from head to toe. A truly effective approach to exercise begins with accepting your body in its present form. If you’re not fully and respectfully acknowledging a part of you—it’s shape, size, strength, or ability—you can’t listen to it. You can’t hear important messages about what it needs to get stronger and healthier without getting injured.

This may be more difficult than it sounds, especially for women.

Our culture can make it incredibly difficult to be accepting of our bodies. As an instructor, I heard a lot of reasons exercising. Often, women told me they “are sick of having this belly,” or “hate this jiggle on my hips.” They’re in my class to “fix” the parts they’re having a hard time accepting.

But if we deny the shape or size of a part of us, we deny its right to speak to us. When we combine this lack of acceptance with a “no pain, no gain” philosophy to exercise, we are much more likely to hurt our bodies than help them. If we accept our bodies for the beautiful, amazing, complex, organic machines they are, and then listen to them, they will tell us exactly how to gain without pain.

The next time you exercise, practice listening. Start by drawing all of your attention to your body. What does the top of your head feel like? Your jaw? Neck? Shoulders? Keep going until you get to your toes. You may want to do this every time you reach a certain common point in your exercise—every time you come back to Mountain Pose in a yoga class, every time you change exercises during weightlifting, etc. You can even do this during movement. Check in with yourself at regularly timed intervals during your morning walk or run.

When you get used to listening to your body during these moments, it becomes easier to listen during exercise. Pay attention to what each movement does to your muscles, joints, breath. Listen hard, respect your body, and back away from movement that causes pain. Stick with what feels like good, hard work, and nothing else. Your body will thank you.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine’s Winter 2009-2010 issue.

Heidi Stevenson is a lifelong Yooper, save for two years earning a PhD in Pennsylvania. She is a former NMU professor, writing center director, group fitness and yoga instructor, and a current wrangler of house cats, autoimmune diseases, and ideas.

Excerpted from the Fall 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bodies in Motion: Getting Social and Fit Andrew Rickauer

U.P. holistic wellness publication, Marquette County trail running, fun fitness, social running group

Who says getting or staying fit can’t be fun?! Marquette Trail Running, a casual group of trail runners open to anyone from a first time runner to ultra-marathon racer, is focused on this philosophy. It’s a social group to share trail tips, introduce others to the sport of trail running, promote group runs, and provide a summer trail series.


The summer trail series is an eight-race trail running points series held throughout the summer on alternate Thursday evenings at 6 pm. Locations rotate around the area to showcase the different trails Marquette County has to offer.  The event is affordable and family friendly. The idea behind it is to bring like-minded people together for an evening of fun. The racing is low-key, untimed, and really all about having a great time. After the race, participants fire up a grill for burgers, brats, or whatever else is handy, and sometimes bring a dish to share while chatting about trails and running.


Aside from the race series, group runs and clinics occur at random, based on when members remember to post that they’re happening. As the director of Marquette Trail Running, I wanted to make the group more inclusive of all fitness levels, so four years ago, I added the virtual race series. A course is set and open for a few weeks. Participants can run it as many times as they want and when it is convenient for them. This series is timed, and participants have to provide documentation that they completed the course and the time they did it in (typically Strava tracked). 


The group started in 2007 with a few casual group runs. Because trail running can be such a solo and independent sport, we started the summer trail series the following year. Someone can run trails every day, and only come across a few people. This is fine, but sometimes it’s nice to see others, share stories, and learn from the more experienced. Also, racing can get very expensive, causing runners to limit themselves to just a few events for the year. This also builds up the pressure to train and perform for these few events. The summer trail series is designed to eliminate these problems. It’s affordable at $30/ season (eight races, and post-race food plus awards and giveaways at each event!). Events are held on weekday evening so they don’t take away from weekend fun with your family, and the races are casual enough so there is no pressure to train or set a course record.  The start line is simply scratched in the dirt, and results are self-reported by placing your name on a board when you finish. 

It really provides all the benefits of racing without the pitfalls, and the group has grown into a great community!


All events are outside, with social distancing and masks recommended.  Many of our group runs are broken into smaller groups, making it easy to stay spread out on the trails.  We also have masks and hand sanitizer available for everyone. 


Marquette Trail Running offers a wonderful way to learn a new sport, learn some trails better and explore new ones, socialize with and learn from some great, like-minded people, keep updated on what is happening with running and trails in our area, and yes, it’s also fun to join in on the race series!


The group is also planning to partner with the Keweenaw Running Group in Houghton and may do some collaborative group events or a U.P.-wide points series.


You can find Marquette Trail Running on Facebook, and it’s open to anyone. All events are free/ by donation for club members, and the recommended fee of $30 to join includes everything.  We will never exclude anyone from anything. This group is open, including, and welcoming to all! Most just show up to the first series race to join.  Others contact me and send me the money, but there is no official form for the group—it’s too much paperwork, and we are all there to have fun!


Andrew Rickauer grew up in Colorado and has been a trail runner since the early ‘80s. He came to Marquette to attend NMU where he met his amazing wife. They live in Marquette with their three girls who all love to enjoy the U.P. woods.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Bodies in Motion: Spring into Your Boogie Shoes! Roslyn McGrath

physical fitness, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication

Feeling a drag in your step? A wish for a happier time, or place, or way of doing things? Or simply tired of the same old routine, the decreased options of a typical pandemic day?

Or perhaps you’re a skiing fan without enough snow, a hiker log-jammed by too much spring slush or mud, an active (or sedentary) person sidelined by an injury or long-term physical restriction?

There’s a form of exercise that can brighten your day, customize to your needs, be done inside or out (depending on your daring), express your preferences, and support your health and wellness.

I call it…. “Dance Party”!

Pretty much any tune you want to wiggle, jiggle, or sizzle to can be heard online nowadays. If you’re computer-challenged, get a little help from someone with a tad more tech savvy if needed, or simply pull out some CDs or cassette tapes. Bu not radio please, unless it’s ad and interruption-free, as you don’t want to break that flow. So queue up what you’re in the mood to move to, using multiple browser windows if necessary. If you’re not sure what you want, Google up your preferred genre for the day– danceable rock, show tunes, funk, bluegrass, disco, big band, etc., and have at it!

Dilemmas have you down and you need to vent your feelings? Go for those bluesy or dramatic tunes. Extra points for belting your heart out! Letting off some steam can go a long way in helping you cope. Just don’t make playing down-in-the-dumps music habitual, as it may then have the opposite effect.

Maybe you can’t move to the music the way you’d like to right now, or like you used to, but chances are you can move something. (And if you choose music from a time when you moved with ease, that may help some.) Start with whatever’s working best for you or feels fun—a foot, a finger, a hand, a head. Dancing from a seated position can be full of variety, and even freeing if you go into it with an open mind. You can tap, clap, and wiggle along, and move slower or faster to any tune. Explore what you can do without pushing the river. Notice as much as you can about how moving one part of your body affects another. The more you get your brain in this game, observing what’s happening, the better off you’ll be. Plus, this can keep your mind too busy to get “judge-y” on you. “Dance Party” is meant to be fun, not win prizes! You can do it in a safe way, and with as much privacy as you like, or get social by Zooming with friends, taking turns choosing music.

physical fitness, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication

If your mobility is not restricted or medically ill-advised, give yourself some freedom and move through as much open space as is reasonably available. Pay attention to what your body wants and needs as you go. If this is your first time dancing in a while, start with a shorter duration than you might expect, and build this up gradually. You can be an excellent biker, skier, or hiker without using your muscles, joints, and tendons in the ways you may when dancing.

Do your best to get your blood flowing, your parts moving, and that smile back on your face as you create your own Boogie Wonderland. Happy Spring!

Roslyn McGrath helps you live your true spirit to uplift your world through Empowering Lightworks & Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Visit EmpoweringLightworks.com for more info. on upcoming webinars, appointment scheduling and related products.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Insurmountable Evidence for Exercise Benefits, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

exercise benefits, holistic wellness, U.P. holistic business

The benefits of exercise are now the stuff of tabloids and daytime TV shows. We are inundated with information about health and fitness, some of it fact, some half-truth, and much of it outright lies. Few do the research to learn the true extent of the positives to health, although most know the basics. It’s good for your heart and blood flow. And, indeed, any form of exercise will have some of those benefits.

How many Americans exercise? How many are able to make these changes in their lives and do so for the “long haul”? This is a complex and nuanced question, but an easy answer is not enough. More than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. Studies agree that only about 23% of Americans exercise in some form with any regularity. Only one in three children are physically active every day. Human muscle tissue needs activity and exercise to be healthy. This is in contrast to the great apes, who are able to maintain fitness without regular activity/exercise. (They’ve done studies; this is not fictional!)

Muscle disuse results in muscle tissue atrophy, which is basically muscle thinning. Muscle atrophy means inevitably, predictably, weakening. Muscle activity comes in many forms but is required for muscle health, with the heart probably being the most important muscle. Aging obviously has a hand in this weakening process, but less than you might think. If you doubt this statement, learn about the famed fitness guru, Jack LaLanne.

One of the most popular and successful methods of exercise is walking. The ability to walk safely depends on a host of factors, some obvious, others not so. The coordinated efforts of many body systems are required, such as the sensory and nervous systems, and cognitive skills. The obvious ones include cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal. Others are classified as “contextual effects’”and include such things as the environment, the lighting, and the support surface upon which the individual treads.

How greatly life changes when we are no longer able to ambulate, to walk, to go for a stroll!

This is a fundamental quality of life issue, and should be valued as such. The aforementioned weakness, the result of disuse, is generally a gradual process, and easy to miss. Unfortunately, infirmity develops progressively. This often results in a reduction of core strength, an essential component of balance and reduced fall risk.

Balance is also known as postural stability, the act of keeping the body upright and vertical. A critical component of this process is core strength, and there is a multitude of ways to improve that. This is an all-around good thing since working your core muscles is beneficial to your overall physical well-being.

A combination of time and disuse can lead to many orthopedic problems. Most older adults suffer from postural changes, such as a forward-leaning posture. This is clearly associated with balance problems, and thus increased fall risk. Several studies have shown good core stability programs can help improve balance and confidence, consequently also reducing the risk of falls. Particularly helpful to fall prevention programs are “posture-challenging exercises,” something to consider when you’re looking to reduce the risk of falls.

There are many things to consider in regards to these efforts, which should be a common concern as we age. Some are easy to alter, such as clearing your hallways of clutter and furniture. Others not so, such as reversing the nerve damage of neuropathy. From joint pain that limits activity to the weakness of malnutrition (a shockingly common problem in the elderly), there is abundant evidence that exercise interventions have the potential to significantly reduce the fall rate, improve cardio-vascular health, and notably enhance quality of life, especially in older adults.

What does the research show about the true benefits of exercise in all its varied forms?

Improvements to health and well-being can occur in surprising ways, some physical and others psychological. The heart is an obvious beneficiary of regular exercise. Exercise helps the heart do a better job of pumping blood throughout the body. Our blood vessels are healthier and better able to respond to an increased demand for oxygen, such as when walking a longer distance.

People who exercise regularly seem to make better nutrition choices. Exercise also helps us maintain a healthy body weight, as well as reduce belly fat. Both appear to lend themselves to a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Exercise lowers blood pressure, since the heart will pump better and more efficiently, decreasing stress on the heart and surrounding arteries. If you have high blood pressure, cardiovascular exercise may help lower it. If you don’t, fitness activities will help you keep it in a healthy range.

Bone strength, critically important in reducing infirmity, requires physical stress, a clear benefit of resistance training. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more bone and becoming denser. It should go without saying that these benefits to bone require good nutrition, especially calcium and Vitamin D. The two types of exercise that are most effective for building strong bones are weight-bearing exercise and strength-training exercise. But these aids to bone health are site-specific. Put another way, walking improves bone strength in the legs, but has no effect on the bones in the wrist.

Adding a variety of exercises, such as running, jogging, gym work, even some recreational activities, can lead to improved brain function and faster mental task performance. Studies have shown better learning abilities, and decreased anxiety and depression, achieved with improved fitness. Certain benefits make sense, but aren’t necessarily obvious, such as an increased feeling of energy. Some of the documented psychological benefits of an exercise program include such possibilities as improved mood, reduced stress, and improved ability to cope with stress. If a person is successful with their regimen, increased self-esteem can be expected also.

The consequences of being sedentary, of sitting too much, are substantial.

Even a short walk, performed regularly at mild-to-moderate intensity, can improve your mood and energy, as well as your heart health. For longer-term benefits, you should exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes per session at moderate intensity. A critical component of physical well-being is core strength, so be certain to include abdominal and back work.

Surprisingly, Medicare now covers the prescribing of an exercise program, typically instituted by a physical or exercise therapist. This tells us the benefits have been proven beyond any doubt. If our government takes it so seriously that they will pay for it, why doesn’t the American public? Why do so many of us eat poorly and get so little activity? As is often the case, there are a plethora of factors at play. But ignorance is no longer an excuse. The truth is out there: get moving and get some exercise. You’ll be getting healthier and smarter.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2020-2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Senior Viewpoint: Bone Health & You, Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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Ask anyone, especially a senior, What is a sign of wellness? What tissue epitomizes strength? The answer is your bones and skeletal health. Never have we known so much about bone health, and never has it received so much attention. Our understanding of bone as an organ and a tissue has deepened, especially in the last few years. The public’s level of awareness has been raised as well, and people want to know what they can do to improve their bone health. They know about the problems that result from osteoporosis, especially the potential for fractures and bone injury.

Bone is truly a remarkable tissue, with amazing abilities and wonderful reparative properties. Bone has the principal responsibility of supporting the load imposed upon itclinical herbalism, the human body. The demands placed upon our bones require enormous strength and resilience, while still being relatively lightweight. Bone is a very responsive tissue, altering its shape and configuration depending on the forces it endures, responding to physical stress by becoming stronger.

Bone requires physical forces be placed upon it, at least partially in the form of resisting gravity, to survive and thrive.

We know more about this process than ever before. At last, we begin to grasp how bone responds to physical activity. Advances in technology have allowed us a better, more thorough understanding of the biology and physics of bone. We know its healing abilities are excellent, at least partially because of its well-endowed blood supply.

As we are all aware, aging affects bones, as it does every part of the human body (and everything else). But certain eras are associated with more significant bone changes. Bone loss begins or accelerates at midlife for both men and women. The goal during this time of life is to keep bone loss to a minimum. For example, between the ages of forty and fifty, bone loss may progress more slowly in both sexes with effective interventions. Unfortunately, during menopause, there is a period of more rapid loss in women. Both sexes may lose a total of 25 percent of bone during this period. This phase can occur anytime between the ages of fifty and seventy.

The frailty phase typically occurs in adults over age seventy. One common occurrence in this phase: bowing of the spine, called kyphosis, due to spinal fractures secondary to osteoporosis. But, be aware these phases are generalized. It is important to know fractures are not a natural consequence of aging. They can be avoided, to some extent. Your chronological age, as an individual, is a given, so we must focus on those factors over which we have some control—our diet and physical activity.

Osteoporosis is the excessive, or “pathologic,” thinning or loss of bone density.

With this common disease, bone substance is lost, making the bone lighter, thinner, and, of course, weaker. When progressive, it can lead to loss of height, stooped posture, humpback, and severe pain. Osteoporosis is characterized by the systemic impairment of bone mass, and strength, resulting in increased risk for fragility fractures, disability, and loss of independence.

Falls frequently result in fractures when thinning of bone has occurred. In seniors, or anyone with certain risk factors, falls are a real and ever-present threat. One approach to the problem is participating in a fall prevention program, helping us to protect our bones by reducing the risk of injury. Programs such as these, addressing muscle strengthening, balance, and gait training, and home hazards evaluations, all help to reduce the number of fractures that occur.

Gait-assistive devices are important, although patient acceptance can be a real issue. Bracing and supports can be beneficial, but are utilized far too rarely. Re-evaluation of prescribed and over-the-counter medications being taken for possible unexpected consequences is also recommended. Oftentimes, one person may receive prescriptions for multiple medications from multiple providers. Many pharmaceuticals have the potential to have psychotropic qualities, meaning they alter perception or mental acuity in some way, and should be reduced or replaced.

Osteoporosis is the most common and most well-known of the bone diseases.

Sometimes referred to as the “fragile bone disease,” this loss of bone mass is often caused by a vitamin deficiency, particularly calcium, vitamin D, or magnesium. Its development usually starts with osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis, in which there is early bone thinning.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, osteoporosis affects 54 million Americans, mostly women. Millions more Americans are estimated to have the low bone mass of osteopenia, putting them at risk for osteoporosis. The morbidity and resulting expense is incalculable. For starters, we know that almost two million Americans a year suffer a fracture attributable to osteoporosis.

It’s well-recognized and proven that physical activity is important for bone health.

Exercise, in all of its varied forms, helps to reduce the risk of falling in later years. This is common mantra holds true throughout the many phases of life. Exercise helps to increase or preserve bone mass. Resistance training, whether with machines or weights, is especially helpful.

We can improve our own bone stock. Still, we have no control over some of the most important factors in developing healthy bone. Studies indicate that genetic factors are responsible for determining fifty to ninety percent of our body’s bone mass. Heredity issues not only limit how much bone a person may acquire, but also affect bone structure, the rate of bone loss, and the skeleton’s response to environmental stimuli, such as certain nutrients and physical activity.

Healthy, sufficient nutrition is important in maintaining optimal bone mass.

We also know the optimal type of nutrition and activity will vary across our life spans. A person’s nutrition over the years is clearly essential to preventing this debilitating disease. It is widely accepted that adequate calcium and vitamin D intake are necessary for good bone health, and the nutritional benefits of these two nutrients go far beyond their boon to bone health.

Because the average American consumes levels of calcium far below the amount recommended for optimal bone health, it has been singled out as a major public health concern today. Vitamin D aids in the absorption and utilization of calcium. There is a high prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency in nursing home residents, hospitalized patients, and adults with hip fractures.

Some estimates claim that over 40% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency.

Although sunshine is the best method of increasing your levels, supplementation is recommended for most of us. Current guidelines suggest 400–800 IU per day is adequate, although many scientists say this is not nearly enough. Another controversy surrounds which type of vitamin D is best, D2 or D3. The former is from plant sources and the latter from animals. Most experts believe D3 is better at raising tissue levels. 

It is essential we value the impact we can have on our own bone health. While genetic factors are important in determining bone mass, we each need to understand we have a critical part to play. In fact, controllable lifestyle factors, generally referring to diet and physical activity, are responsible for ten to fifty percent of our bone mass and structure.

But too many of us are too sedentary. Many of us know, in a general sense, that exercise is important. Yet how many of us are able to incorporate it into our average day and make it a regular practice? A little self-knowledge has not achieved great gains in levels of personal fitness. It may be time for a different approach. When exercise is prescribed like a drug by one’s family doc, it acts as a prescription medicine. And it is the healthiest kind.

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Fall 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

“Finding Your Path to Fitness,” Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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Everyone knows of the many benefits of exercise. The news is all around us, from health segments on your evening news to the covers of glamour magazines. Exercise is health, and great expense is directed toward achieving it. From the latest elliptical machine to some ab-crunching gadget, diet books to weight-watching meal delivery service, fitness sells.

Anyone living in the modern world has heard of the benefits of exercise, from improved heart function to more stamina on the square dance, from clearer cognition to better weight maintenance. Then why don’t more people exercise? Many believe they are unable to exercise because they cannot jog or lift weights. Some common conditions that make it challenging to pursue physical fitness can include arthritic or damaged joints, neuro-degenerative disorders (such as Muscular Dystrophy), even limb loss.

What is exercise? If you truly study the concept, it means to physically exert oneself, the contracture of various muscle groups. But the muscles crossing any joint don’t actually have to move the joint. An exercise that involves no motion is termed an isometric one, in which you are tensing a muscle group, without any motion. As you can tighten your stomach muscles, you can also tense your biceps without bending your elbow.

Many alternative forms of exercise are available.

For example, tai chi is practiced by millions across the globe. Studies to date demonstrate its health benefits in both physical and spiritual directions. Originally a form of martial arts, it is now practiced also for its meditative aspect, as well as for promoting improved heart health. Gardening and walking are simple activities that many enjoy. They are also good alternatives to traditional exercise. Do not overlook them just because they are easy, or because you enjoy them. If you do any of these gentle exercises regularly, you will improve your overall health.

You can find yoga in most every Y and community center in the U.S. Yoga practice may build strength, fitness, flexibility, and even enhance self-awareness and your mind-body connection. Hundreds of different “schools” of yoga exist, with most typically including some breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming certain postures, also known as asanas, or poses. These are intended to stretch and flex various muscle groups. Many appreciate yoga’s benefits in disease prevention, i.e. health maintenance. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy.

When it comes to being physically active, sometimes you need to think outside the box. Seek out activities requiring movement in some form, even if it might not typically be considered exercise. The activity must simply raise one’s heart rate or require physical exertion. For healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. If someone is participating in more vigorous activity, DHHS recommends 75 minutes a week. A combination is best.

Being physically inactive is not only abnormal, it is also pathological because the old adage “use it or lose it” is really true.

Our bodies evolved to require the stresses inherent in physical activity to grow and function properly. Our bodies never evolved to cope with persistent inactivity. In prehistoric times, it was essential for survival to be physically active. It would be fair to say it is part of our evolutionary tree, our deepest roots. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherer types who walked miles every day, along with all the climbing and digging. Even farmers had to toil long and hard, although agriculture certainly transformed our diets.

Exercise, in some way, shape, or form, is vital for developing a strong and healthy circulatory system, durable bones safe from osteoporosis, a vigorous immune system, and a properly functioning brain. Almost every organ and body system benefits from regular exercise and is compromised by its absence. Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. It is now obvious our lack of motion, in a very real sense, has contributed to the increasing prevalence of high blood sugar levels and pre-diabetes.
Modern times have transformed our activities tremendously. Few residents of modern society perform physical activity, and more rare is the job requiring physical labor. Many have little interest in exercising in their off hours. Yet the benefits are real. Men who are unfit but then improve their fitness lower their risk of a heart attack by about 50%.

Obviously, I feel required to issue a warning. If you have any severe health problems, you would do well to consult with your doctor. Describe your plans. Unless you have an extremely serious medical condition, your health care provider should laud your efforts. Exercise is good medicine, and for just about everything. A pertinent question, of course, is how much? And what kind? There is some form of exercise for everyone; it’s just a matter of finding out what works for you.

What really determines which of us attains fitness as an adult?

Or becomes obese, and develops diabetes? How much control over your fitness do you have? With such immutable ingredients as one’s own genetic constitution, over which we clearly have no control, we all have inherited strengths and limitations. But, for the time being, you have whatever genes were passed on to you. Make the best of them and make the best you possible.

We know fixing our health care system will be difficult. Yet, there is an inexpensive, readily available answer, and one highly effective in prevention. Utilizing this method will even help rein in our skyrocketing health care costs. Start exercising. As a culture, we need to, certainly more than at current levels. It is what we have evolved to do. So get fit by getting active!

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.