Category Archives: Bodies In Motion

Bodies in Motion: Balancing Act, by Kevin McGrath

I’m watching the Super Bowl and the running back takes the hand-off, racing to the right side where he sharply cuts upfield through the hole that his lineman opened for him. As he emerges from the hole, it quickly closes with a linebacker exploding into him. He astonishingly spins out of the tackler’s arms, keeping his footing and darting another five yards out of bounds, getting a key first down for his team.

Two nights later, I’m watching my favorite hockey team, the Detroit Red Wings, on TV when Dylan Larkin catches a crisp pass on his stick, leaning hard into the defenseman who is all over him, all the while firing a bullet at the opposing team’s net.

The next night, I’m at my Marquette City basketball game. At age fifty-nine, I play on a team with mostly 35 to 38-year-olds. We’re playing against the youngest team in the league, whose players average 28 years. We get a turnover and start a break-away during which a quick pass comes my way. It’s slightly deflected, causing me to spin my upper torso while running in the other direction. I lose my footing and fall hard to the ground as the ball bounces off my arm and out of bounds.

All of these situations have something in common, something that most of us take for granted – balance! As Wikipedia explains, “In biomechanics, balance is the ability to maintain the line of gravity (vertical line to the center of mass) of the body within the base of support with minimal postural support.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balance_(ability))

Many factors come into play to achieve good balance, which requires the coordination of input from multiple sensory systems. These systems include but are not limited to sense organs, as well as pressure and vibratory senses, skin, joints, plus visual senses that all work in unity, detecting changes in spatial orientation in relation to the base of support, whether the body moves or the base is altered in some way. Environmental factors such as surface and lighting conditions, ear infections, alcohol, some medications, and other drug use also impact balance.

As important as balance is, most people take it for granted. Have you ever misjudged the height of a curb while walking down the street, or caught your shoe on a raised crack in the sidewalk? There are various levels of stability, and while as an athlete, my ability to stay upright is pretty good, I’m still quite impressed by some of the people I see paddle boarding, snowboarding, surfing, downhill skiing or acrobatic skateboarding. Nonetheless, as with muscle tone, our balance typically declines with age. For example, my elderly aunt misjudged the second step going up to my brother’s house, lost her balance, and fell of the porch, breaking her hip.

As a lifelong athlete and a former coach, it is clear to me that my balance isn’t what it used to be. I also realize there are a slew of ways to improve it. One favorite that comes to mind is the dot drill. I place four dots forming a square on the floor, roughly three feet apart with another dot in the middle of them all. I begin by standing on the middle dot and then jumping with both feet to the upper right dot and back to the middle, then to the lower right dot and back to middle, followed by the lower left dot and returning to the middle, then up to the upper left dot and back to the middle. I repeat this clockwise sequence three times, followed by the same movements in a counter-clockwise sequence three times. Once I’m able to do that confidently without pause, I work toward doing it with a one-legged hop, changing legs when I change direction from clockwise to counterclockwise.

Zumba, yoga, tai chi or any other fitness class with trained professionals able to assist you in realizing your goals can also help you make great strides in improving your balance. Key here is finding what works best for you, whether done at home or with a group.

For me, quality of life is essential, and that doesn’t happen by doing nothing. In order to improve, you must practice. That’s a good reminder to me. While we may automatically pay more attention to having a healthier diet, or working on muscle tone as we age, it’s extremely important to work on balance improvement too. Our quality of life lies in the balance.

Kevin McGrath believes that life is a balancing act, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. He can be found stumbling his way through it.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Exercise Your Age? by M. Moeller

When speaking with women in their 40s, 50s and 60s about what it takes to stay fit while getting older, these three qualities were mentioned across the age groups –  recognition, acceptance and adjustment.

Recognition: Deanna Koscielny, 41, of Marquette had children at a very young age, was always on the heavy side, smoked and besides hiking and an occasional aerobics class, never exercised until she was in a serious car accident in her mid-thirties. Luckily, her injuries were minor, but the accident confronted her with the reality that she only had one life to live. “You can’t take your health for granted,” Deanna said. “If I had not changed, I know I would now be on high blood pressure meds and probably have diabetes.”

Deanna quit smoking and started biking with a women’s bicycling group called Women Shifting Gears. She not only very much enjoyed her first mountain bike ride, she also connected with many other women in the group. Soon she had exercise routines and new friends. Over the years, Deanna became very fit, competing in races and challenging herself with different types of activities, including running a marathon this spring. Her job also changed – she now teaches others how to maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle as part of a Marquette General Hospital program.

Acceptance: Marion Johnson, 53, of Ishpeming, was just entering high school when Title IX was introduced, and consequently ,women’s sports.  As a result, Marion participated in track and field and quickly became a successful sprinter. With her priority of raising children, Marion remained active throughout her 20s and 30s by introducing her children to outdoor activities like skiing, hiking and swimming.   As she entered her mid-40s with her children grown, Marion was able to shift her priorities back to her own activities with health and longevity now her primary goals for exercise: “As you age, you want to be fit to enjoy life.” So Marion stepped it up with road riding, mountain biking, running, and intense Cross Fit training.  She not only enjoyed the results of the training but thrived on the workouts as an important part of her daily routine.  Now in her 50s, Marion recently experienced a setback, tearing her meniscus while running.   She is still working through her recovery following surgery and realizing she may have to rethink her workout routines and perhaps scale the intensity back a bit. “It’s a reality check.”  Marion has accepted that the unexpected injury requires she make some adjustments in her   active lifestyle. Rather than quit, she will learn new ways to stay active and injury free.

Adjustment: Janet Koistenen, 61, of Gwinn has been an athlete all her life. As a child, her father encouraged her to be active outside, and as she grew older, she became a competitive runner and cross-country skier. Nowadays, Janet sees her sports as a way to have fun and to enjoy nature, so she is still very active in her 60s. However, over the years she did have to adjust some of her routines. For instance, after running on pavement for many years, knee pain prompted her to switch to trail running. Although trail running is often much more irregular than running on pavement, Janet said the softer surface makes it easier on her body. She also began adding bicycling and swimming to her routines. Mixing up activities, Janet said, contributes to her staying healthy enough to still run, swim, bike and ski regularly to this day. She even competes here and there, including the Copper Harbor triathlon, the Copperman, this August.

Adjusting to change, especially adjusting her mindset, has not been the easiest thing for Janet. About five years ago, during a cross country ski race, she realized it was time to change the way she was going about the sport. She said during the race she felt very competitive, thinking about beating the others. “I wanted that attention,” she explained. “I was doing it for all the wrong reasons.” Janet recognized she had forgotten to have fun with it, so she stepped away from racing and instead focused on teaching others. Teaching prompted further insight. Janet began surrounding herself with younger generations, whom she helped improve at sports and whom in turn motivated her to stay active, a win-win situation. Now Janet encourages folks her age and older to stay fit by being active with younger people. The Marquette area offers endless opportunities for generations to mix and exercise. A good introduction might be to start a sport with a grandchild or join a local sports club.

All the women agreed that no matter one’s age, fitness and a healthy lifestyle is achievable. It may take a bit of a leap for some, but very often that first step leads to not only a happier but also a longer life.

Miriam Moeller is a former journalist and creative writer. She currently works at Northern Michigan University in the International Programs Office. She loves biking, skiing and her dog Marla.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2012 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2012.

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Why Crunches Alone Don’t Make Your Middle Smaller

by Heidi Stevenson
It’s a common reaction. You decide a certain body part—your stomach, the back of your arms, the inside of your upper legs—is too big, and you seek out exercises to make it smaller. You do endless crunches, tricep kickbacks, and inner thigh lifts, only to find that said body part is stubbornly retaining its size. Why is this so? Why can’t that fabulous ab machine on TV eliminate abdominal fat as it promises to do?

 

When you attempt to change an isolated area of your body like your abdominal region, your triceps, (the muscle running along the back of your arms), or your adductors, (the muscle running along the inside of your upper legs), by targeting it with strength training exercises like crunches, tricep kickbacks, or inner thigh lifts alone, it’s called spot training, or spot reduction. And alone, it doesn’t work. If you are unhappy with the size of your stomach, you cannot attempt to change the shape alone and hope the problem will go away. You may already have strong muscles in that area. You might already really like the shape of those muscles.

 

Often though, those muscles are underneath accumulated body fat. In order to change this, you need to burn body fat. You need to focus on making your body smaller and leaner overall. If you are interested in “whittling your middle,” getting rid of the little thing swinging on the back of your arms, attacking that inner thigh jiggle, and if it is safe for you to lose weight, you need to combine the exercises targeting those areas with two things: sensible eating, and ample cardiovascular activity, which increases your heart rate—like running, biking, or swimming. In a very basic sense, taking in more calories than you burn results in accumulated body fat. Burning more calories than you take in results in loss of body fat.

 

Determining how many calories you should eat, and of what sort, as well as how much and what kind of activity is appropriate for you, is a complex task. You should consult professionals for help in these areas: physicians, nutritionists, personal trainers, etc. Once you have determined that your eating plan is sensible and your activity is ample for weight loss, then yes, go ahead and include those exercises to strengthen your muscles.

 

But make sure you are also strength training in a balanced, healthy way. Work opposing muscle groups: work your back muscles along with your abdominal muscles, your biceps along with your triceps, and your abductors along with your adductors. Work your upper body, if you’re working your lower body. Consider trying a discipline like Pilates, which includes a lot of integrative strength training (exercises in which you work a lot of muscles at once). Gaining balanced muscular strength and endurance will not only help change the shape of those underlying muscles. You’ll also be bringing that stronger body into your cardiovascular activity, making it easier to do more.

 

So now you are eating sensibly, including an appropriate amount of cardiovascular activity in your life, and including balanced strength training. Once you have done these things, the rest is up to your body’s natural shape and tendencies. We all have to accept that with which we are born. But you will see your body change. You will feel healthier and stronger. And really, that’s the most beautiful and perfect any of us need to be.

 

Heidi Stevenson is a certified group fitness instructor, currently teaching yoga, Pilates, and aquatics for the HPER Department and Recreational Sports program at Northern Michigan University. She has taught a wide variety of group fitness classes in Michigan and Pennsylvania over the last 14 years.
 
Reprinted from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2010. Copyright Heidi Stevenson, 2010.
 

 

 

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