Monthly Archives: August 2012

Why Do We Sleep, Anyway?

 

Why Do We Sleep, Anyway?

• Our bodies regulate sleep in much the same way that they regulate eating, drinking, and breathing. This suggests that sleep serves a similar critical role in our health and well-being.

• Although it is difficu

lt to answer the question, “Why do we sleep?” scientists have developed several theories that together may help explain why we spend a third of our lives sleeping.

• Understanding these theories can help deepen our appreciation of the function of sleep in our lives.

Hunger and Eating; Sleepiness and Sleep:
As with eating well, good sleep is a staple of optimal health.
While we may not often think about why we sleep, most of us acknowledge at some level that sleep makes us feel better. We feel more alert, more energetic, happier, and better able to function following a good night of sleep. However, the fact that sleep makes us feel better and that going without sleep makes us feel worse only begins to explain why sleep might be necessary. One way to think about the function of sleep is to compare it to another of our life-sustaining activities: eating. Hunger is a protective mechanism that has evolved to ensure that we consume the nutrients our bodies require to grow, repair tissues, and function properly. And although it is relatively easy to grasp the role that eating serves— given that it involves physically consuming the substances our bodies need—eating and sleeping are not as different as they might seem.

Both eating and sleeping are regulated by powerful internal drives. Going without food produces the uncomfortable sensation of hunger, while going without sleep makes us feel overwhelmingly sleepy. And just as eating relieves hunger and ensures that we obtain the nutrients we need, sleeping relieves sleepiness and ensures that we obtain the sleep we need. Still, the question remains: Why do we need sleep at all? Is there a single primary function of sleep, or does sleep serve many functions?

An Unanswerable Question?

Scientists have explored the question of why we sleep from many different angles. They have examined, for example, what happens when humans or other animals are deprived of sleep. In other studies, they have looked at sleep patterns in a variety of organisms to see if similarities or differences among species might reveal something about sleep’s functions. Yet, despite decades of research and many discoveries about other aspects of sleep, the question of why we sleep has been difficult to answer.

The lack of a clear answer to this challenging question does not mean that this research has been a waste of time. In fact, we now know much more about the function of sleep, and scientists have developed several promising theories to explain why we sleep. In light of the evidence they have gathered, it seems likely that no single theory will ever be proven correct. Instead, we may find that sleep is explained by two or more of these explanations. The hope is that by better understanding why we sleep, we will learn to respect sleep’s functions more and enjoy the health benefits it affords.This essay outlines several current theories of why we sleep. To learn more about them, be sure to check out the “Bookshelf” feature at the end of this essay. There you’ll find links to articles by researchers who are studying this fascinating question.

Theories of Why We Sleep:

Inactivity Theory

One of the earliest theories of sleep, sometimes called the adaptive or evolutionary theory, suggests that inactivity at night is an adaptation that served a survival function by keeping organisms out of harm’s way at times when they would be particularly vulnerable. The theory suggests that animals that were able to stay still and quiet during these periods of vulnerability had an advantage over other animals that remained active. These animals did not have accidents during activities in the dark, for example, and were not killed by predators. Through natural selection, this behavioral strategy presumably evolved to become what we now recognize as sleep.A simple counter-argument to this theory is that it is always safer to remain conscious in order to be able to react to an emergency (even if lying still in the dark at night). Thus, there does not seem to be any advantage of being unconscious and asleep if safety is paramount.

Energy Conservation Theory

Although it may be less apparent to people living in societies in which food sources are plentiful, one of the strongest factors in natural selection is competition for and effective utilization of energy resources. The energy conservation theory suggests that the primary function of sleep is to reduce an individual’s energy demand and expenditure during part of the day or night, especially at times when it is least efficient to search for food.
Research has shown that energy metabolism is significantly reduced during sleep (by as much as 10 percent in humans and even more in other species). For example, both body temperature and caloric demand decrease during sleep, as compared to wakefulness. Such evidence supports the proposition that one of the primary functions of sleep is to help organisms conserve their energy resources. Many scientists consider this theory to be related to, and part of, the inactivity theory.

Restorative Theories

Another explanation for why we sleep is based on the long-held belief that sleep in some way serves to “restore” what is lost in the body while we are awake. Sleep provides an opportunity for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself. In recent years, these ideas have gained support from empirical evidence collected in human and animal studies. The most striking of these is that animals deprived entirely of sleep lose all immune function and die in just a matter of weeks. This is further supported by findings that many of the major restorative functions in the body like muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis, and growth hormone release occur mostly, or in some cases only, during sleep. Other rejuvenating aspects of sleep are specific to the brain and cognitive function. For example, while we are awake, neurons in the brain produce adenosine, a by-product of the cells’ activities. The build-up of adenosine in the brain is thought to be one factor that leads to our perception of being tired. (Incidentally, this feeling is counteracted by the use of caffeine, which blocks the actions of adenosine in the brain and keeps us alert.) Scientists think that this build-up of adenosine during wakefulness may promote the “drive to sleep.” As long as we are awake, adenosine accumulates and remains high. During sleep, the body has a chance to clear adenosine from the system, and, as a result, we feel more alert when we wake.

Brain Plasticity Theory

One of the most recent and compelling explanations for why we sleep is based on findings that sleep is correlated to changes in the structure and organization of the brain. This phenomenon, known as brain plasticity, is not entirely understood, but its connection to sleep has several critical implications. It is becoming clear, for example, that sleep plays a critical role in brain development in infants and young children. Infants spend about 13 to 14 hours per day sleeping, and about half of that time is spent in REM sleep, the stage in which most dreams occur. A link between sleep and brain plasticity is becoming clear in adults as well. This is seen in the effect that sleep and sleep deprivation have on people’s ability to learn and perform a variety of tasks.
Although these theories remain unproven, science has made tremendous strides in discovering what happens during sleep and what mechanisms in the body control the cycles of sleep and wakefulness that help define our lives. While this research does not directly answer the question, “Why do we sleep?” it does set the stage for putting that question in a new context and generating new knowledge about this essential part of life.

A resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School

Siegel JM. 2005. Clues to the functions of mammalian sleep. Nature. 437:1264-1271.

Porkka-Heiskanen T. 1999. Adenosine in sleep and wakefulness. Annals of Medicine. 31:125-129.

Frank MG. 2006. The mystery of sleep function: current perspectives and future directions. Reviews in the Neurosciences. 17:375-392.

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Why Your Feet Hurt

Why Your Feet Hurt
It’s probably due to one of these ailments. Here’s how to treat them. For serious pain, see a podiatrist or a podiatric surgeon.

1. Plantar Fasciitis
Feels like: A sharp pain in your heel (or heels) that’s at its worst when you get out of bed.

What causes it: Inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the toes. People with all arch types―high, medium, or low―can be prone to this type of irritation, says Carly Robbins, a podiatric surgeon in Columbus, Ohio. Wearing shoes with very flat or very high heels can worsen the problem. “If a shoe doesn’t support the arch, the fascia will be stretched, and that can cause inflammation,” says Robbins. And if your Achilles tendon often feels tight, it can exacerbate the issue.

Treatment strategies
Wear structured shoes. Look for pairs that support the arches and enclose the heels. Avoid going barefoot or wearing ballet flats or flip-flops.

Stretch your Achilles tendons in the morning. “The plantar fascia is in a relaxed position when you’re sleeping,” says Jacqueline Sutera, a podiatric surgeon in New York City. “Then it gets a jolt of tension when you put weight on it.” Before hopping out of bed, wrap a towel or a T-shirt around your feet and pull the toes back to stretch the tendons.

Reduce swelling. Fill a plastic bottle with water, freeze it, and roll it under your foot for a few minutes to soothe the pain.

Consider custom orthotics. A podiatrist can make inserts that are molded specifically for your feet, which will control their motion and decrease strain on the plantar fasciae when worn inside shoes.

2. Ingrown Toenail
Feels like: A throbbing sensation, usually on the side of a big toe. It might look red and swollen.

What causes it: This often occurs when the nail edge grows sideways into the skin of the toe. The pressure on the nail jabs into the surrounding skin, causing discomfort. Wearing shoes that are too tight or too narrow can exacerbate the problem. Cutting toenails incorrectly can also be a culprit.

Treatment strategies
Wear pointy-toed shoes infrequently. And if you’ll be walking a lot, carry them and wear shoes with roomy toe boxes until you reach your destination.

Keep feet well moisturized. When the skin on your toes gets inflamed, a callus can develop, causing more pressure on the ingrown nail. Keeping skin soft helps alleviate this problem.

Cut toenails straight across. And don’t file the corners down. If you get pedicures, be sure the technician follows these rules.

See a podiatrist if you suspect infection. Signs include significant swelling and redness. “Don’t try any bathroom surgery,” says Robbins. “Digging around the nail and trying to cut out the ingrown part can lead to more irritation.”

3. Bursitis
Feels like: A bump, usually on the back of a heel.

What causes it: “This condition can occur when you have a genetically enlarged heel bone,” says Marlene Reid, a podiatric surgeon in Naperville, Illinois. “It’s often called ‘pump bump’ because the bone can become irritated from wearing a shoe like a pump with a stiff back.” When the unforgiving shoe rubs against the bone, you can inflame the bursa, the protective sac of fluid in the tissue.

Treatment strategies

Switch to shoes with open backs (or at least with more give) until the irritation subsides.

Use a donut pad. Try Dr. Scholl’s Foam Ease Callus Cushions ($4.50 at drugstores). Place one over the bursa to alleviate pressure. At the end of the day, ice the area to soothe the inflammation.

Consider seeing a doctor. If the problem causes chronic pain, a podiatric surgeon can remove the bursa and the enlarged part of the heel bone.

4. Stress fracture
Feels like: A tender area, often on the front part of the foot, at the second or third metatarsal (the metatarsals are the long bones in the midfoot).

What causes it: Repetitive stress on a bone, like walking or running on hard surfaces, especially in shoes that aren’t designed to absorb shocks. “Every summer, I see fractures in women who walk the city sidewalks all day in flip-flops,” says Sutera. High heels can also make you more susceptible to stress fractures, because the heel’s tilt distributes your weight over your foot unevenly.

Treatment strategies

See a doctor no matter what. A podiatrist will give you a surgical shoe to wear as you heal (it has a hard bottom that doesn’t allow the affected bones to bend) or advise you to wear some other kind of rigid shoes.

Slow down. Stress fractures take four to eight weeks to heal. During that time, you’ll need to stop running and limit your walking to what’s absolutely necessary.

Prevent recurrences. Maintain a healthy weight and wear supportive, well-cushioned shoes.

5. Bunions
Feel like: Sensitive, protruding bumps, typically at the heads of the big-toe joints.

What causes them: Bunions are thought to be hereditary, and you can develop them if you have low arches or if you overpronate (your feet roll inward). “As the bump gets bigger, it’s actually your bone moving,” says Robbins. Wearing certain shoes―such as those with narrow, pointy toes and high heels―won’t cause bunions to form, but they can speed their progression.

Treatment strategies

Choose the right shoes. Specifically, pick pairs with a wide toe box and a low heel.

Try gel pads. Place them over the bunions to help cushion the areas and reduce pain.

Consider surgery. If your bunions continue to get worse, become very painful, or begin to affect your feet’s mobility, a podiatric surgeon can realign the joints and shave off the protruding bones.

6. Neuroma
Feels like: A shooting pain in the ball of the foot.

What causes it: Pressure on the nerve tissue in the underside of the foot, usually between two adjacent metatarsals. This pressure irritates the nerves, and the area swells. “Narrow, pointy shoes can put added pressure on an already irritated nerve,” says Robbins.

Treatment strategies
Wear shoes with a wide toe box. And stick to those with low heels.

Employ anti-inflammatories. Take ibuprofen, or if that’s not enough, see a podiatrist and ask about a cortisone injection, which should bring down the swelling of the nerve immediately.

Consider surgery. For a stubborn neuroma that won’t go away with less invasive treatments, a doctor can use cryotreatment, a surgical technique in which a probe is inserted to eradicate the problem nerve.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. While scoliosis can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, the cause of most scoliosis is unknown.
Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some children develop spine deformities that continue to get more severe as they grow. Severe scoliosis can be disa

bling. An especially severe spinal curve can reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly.

Children who have mild scoliosis are monitored closely, usually with X-rays, to see if the curve is getting worse. In many cases, no treatment is necessary. Some children will need to wear a brace to stop the curve from worsening. Others may need surgery to keep the scoliosis from worsening and to straighten severe cases of scoliosis.

Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of scoliosis may include:

Uneven shoulders

One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other

Uneven waist

One hip higher than the other

If a scoliosis curve gets worse, the spine will also rotate or twist, in addition to curving side to side. This causes the ribs on one side of the body to stick out farther than on the other side. Severe scoliosis can cause back pain and difficulty breathing.

When to see a doctorGo to your doctor if you notice signs or symptoms of scoliosis in your child. Mild curves, however, can develop without the parent or child knowing it because they appear gradually and usually don’t cause pain. Occasionally, teachers, friends and sports teammates are the first to notice a child’s scoliosis.

Causes
Doctors don’t know what causes the most common type of scoliosis — although it appears to involve hereditary factors, because the disorder tends to run in families. Less common types of scoliosis may be caused by:

Neuromuscular conditions, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy

Birth defects affecting the development of the bones of the spine

Injuries to or infections of the spine

Risk factors
Risk factors for developing the most common type of scoliosis include:

Age. Signs and symptoms typically begin during the growth spurt that occurs just prior to puberty. This is usually between the ages of 9 and 15 years.

Sex. Although both boys and girls develop mild scoliosis at about the same rate, girls have a much higher risk of the curve worsening and requiring treatment.

Family history. Scoliosis can run in families, but most children with scoliosis don’t have a family history of the disease.

Complications
While most people with scoliosis have a mild form of the disorder, scoliosis may sometimes cause complications, including:

Lung and heart damage. In severe scoliosis, the rib cage may press against the lungs and heart, making it more difficult to breathe and harder for the heart to pump.

Back problems. Adults who had scoliosis as children are more likely to have chronic back pain than are people in the general population.

Appearance. As scoliosis worsens, it can cause more noticeable changes — including unlevel shoulders, prominent ribs, uneven hips, and a shift of the waist and trunk to the side. Individuals with scoliosis often become self-conscious about their appearance.
Preparing for your appointment
Your child’s doctor may check for scoliosis at routine well-child visits. Many schools also have screening programs for scoliosis. Physical examinations prior to sports participation often detect scoliosis. If you are informed that your child might have scoliosis, see your doctor to confirm the condition.

Tests and diagnosis
The doctor will initially take a detailed medical history and may ask questions about recent growth. During the physical exam, your doctor may have your child stand and then bend forward from the waist, with arms hanging loosely, to see if one side of the rib cage is more prominent than the other.

Your doctor may also perform a neurological exam to check for:
Muscle weakness
Numbness
Abnormal reflexes

Imaging testsPlain X-rays can confirm the diagnosis of scoliosis and reveal the severity of the spinal curvature. If a doctor suspects that an underlying condition — such as a tumor — is causing the scoliosis, he or she may recommend additional imaging tests, including:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce very detailed images of bones and soft tissues.

Computerized tomography (CT). CT scans combine X-rays taken from many different directions to produce more-detailed images than do plain X-rays.

Bone scan. Bone scans involve the injection of a radioactive material, which travels to the parts of your bones that are injured or healing.
Treatments and drugs

English: Comparison of two different braces fo...

English: Comparison of two different braces for the treatment of scoliosis. Even with the light version of the brace the same in-brace corrections can be achieved as with much bigger high correction braces. Deutsch: Vergleich zweier unterschiedlicher Korsette zur Skoliosebahandlung. Auch mit dem Chêneau light Korsett Korsett sind Korrekturen wie bei anderen, weitaus größeren hochkorrigierenden Korsetten möglich. Das Chêneau light Korsett ist zudem besser verträglich. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scoliosis brace

Scoliosis surgery
Most children with scoliosis have mild curves and probably won’t need treatment with a brace or surgery. Children who have mild scoliosis may need checkups every four to six months to see if there have been changes in the curvature of their spines.

While there are guidelines for mild, moderate and severe curves, the decision to begin treatment is always made on an individual basis. Factors to be considered include:

Sex. Girls have a much higher risk of progression than do boys.

Severity of curve. Larger curves are more likely to worsen with time.

Curve pattern. Double curves, also known as S-shaped curves, tend to worsen more often than do C-shaped curves.

Location of curve. Curves located in the center (thoracic) section of the spine worsen more often than do curves in the upper or lower sections of the spine.

Maturity. If a child’s bones have stopped growing, the risk of curve progression is low. That also means that braces have the most effect in children whose bones are still growing.

BracesIf your child’s bones are still growing and he or she has moderate scoliosis, your doctor may recommend a brace. Wearing a brace won’t cure scoliosis, or reverse the curve, but it usually prevents further progression of the curve.

Most braces are worn day and night. A brace’s effectiveness increases with the number of hours a day it’s worn. Children who wear braces can usually participate in most activities and have few restrictions. If necessary, kids can take off the brace to participate in sports or other physical activities.

Braces are discontinued after the bones stop growing. This typically occurs:
About two years after girls begin to menstruate
When boys need to shave daily
When there are no further changes in height

Braces are of two main types:

Underarm or low-profile brace. This type of brace is made of modern plastic materials and is contoured to conform to the body. Also called a thoracolumbosacral orthosis, this close-fitting brace is almost invisible under the clothes, as it fits under the arms and around the rib cage, lower back and hips. Underarm braces are not helpful for curves in the upper spine or neck.

Milwaukee brace. This full-torso brace has a neck ring with rests for the chin and for the back of the head. The brace has a flat bar in the front and two flat bars in the back. Because they are more cumbersome, Milwaukee braces usually are used only in situations where an underarm brace won’t help.

SurgerySevere scoliosis typically progresses with time, so your doctor might suggest scoliosis surgery to reduce the severity of the spinal curve and to prevent it from getting worse. The most common type of scoliosis surgery is called spinal fusion.

In spinal fusion, surgeons connect two or more of the bones in the spine (vertebrae) together, so they can’t move independently. Pieces of bone or a bone-like material are placed between the vertebrae. Metal rods, hooks, screws or wires typically hold that part of the spine straight and still while the old and new bone material fuses together.

Surgery is usually postponed until after a child’s bones have stopped growing. If the scoliosis is progressing rapidly at a young age, surgeons can install a rod that can adjust in length as the child grows. This growing rod is attached to the top and bottom sections of the spinal curvature, and is usually lengthened every six months.

Complications of spinal surgery may include bleeding, infection, pain or nerve damage. Rarely, the bone fails to heal and another surgery may be needed.

Lifestyle and home remedies
Although physical therapy exercises can’t stop scoliosis, general exercise or participating in sports may have the benefit of improving overall health and well-being.

Alternative medicine
Studies indicate that the following treatments for scoliosis are ineffective:
Chiropractic manipulation
Electrical stimulation of muscles
Biofeedback

Coping and support
Coping with scoliosis is difficult for a young person in an already complicated stage of life. Teens are bombarded with physical changes and emotional and social challenges. With the added diagnosis of scoliosis, anger, insecurity and fear may occur.

A strong supportive peer group can have a significant impact on a child’s or teen’s acceptance of scoliosis, bracing or surgical treatment. Encourage your child to talk to his or her friends and ask for their support.
Consider joining a support group for parents and kids with scoliosis. Support group members can provide advice, relay real-life experiences and help you connect with others facing similar challenges.

Sciatica Soothers

Dealing with the shooting pain or numbness of sciatica is no fun. Discomfort is caused when the sciatic nerve (which runs from the lower spine down the back of each leg) gets pinched. It can be caused by an injury such as a slipped disk or pelvic fracture, pregnancy, or tight muscles in the lower back, hips, and legs. Whether you feel yours at night or after sitting or standing for a long time, relief is just a yoga mat away with these eight pose

HALF MOON

Half Moon

If your sciatica symptoms are caused by sitting or standing for long periods, stretching the outer leg can offer instant relief.

  • Stand on your hands and feet in Downward Facing Dog. Step your right foot forward between your hands, and rise up into Warrior 1. Open your hips, arms, and chest into Warrior 2.
  • Place your left hand on your left hip and stretch your right arm straight out, creating length through the right side of your body. Shift weight onto your right foot and lift your left foot up. Plant your right palm flat on the ground under your shoulder.
  • Distribute your weight evenly between your right hand and foot. Lift your left arm up and gaze toward your left hand. Hold for five breaths and then release the pose, coming into Downward Dog. Then try Half Moon on the left side.

FIGURE FOUR

Figure Four

This relaxing variation of Pigeon really targets the tight piriformis muscle, which is a common cause of sciatica.

  • Lie on your back with both legs in the air. Place your right ankle on your left thigh above your knee. See the shape of the number four? It is there, just upside down.
  • Reach your right hand through the open space created by your right leg and grab your left hand, which is reaching around the outside of your left thigh. Slowly bend your left knee toward your chest. You should feel a stretch on the outside of your right hip.
  • After five breaths repeat on the other side.

PIGEON

Pigeon

Take this pose as deeply as you want to target the areas of discomfort around your lower back, hips, and thighs.

  • From Downward Facing Dog, step both feet together and bring your right knee forward between your hands so your outer right leg is resting on the mat. If your hips are more open, inch your right foot away from you. Make sure your left hip is always pointing down toward the mat.
  • Stay here with your hands resting on your hips or your right leg, or walk your hands out in front of you, allowing your torso to rest over your right knee.
  • Hold here, breathing into any areas of tightness and tension for at least five breaths. Then place your hands on the mat in front of you, tuck your left toes, and step your right foot back. Repeat Pigeon on the left side.

OPEN LIZARD

Open Lizard

This variation of Lizard pose will open a different part of your hip, as well as offer a nice stretch for the
hip flexor, which can also contribute to sciatica discomfort.

  • From Downward Facing Dog, step your right foot forward between your palms. Keep your hands on the mat and lower your left knee to the floor, pointing the toes.
  • Slowly lower your right knee to the right, so you’re resting on the outside of your right flexed foot. Keep your arms straight, pressing your chest forward just like in Upward Facing Dog. This will help encourage your hips to lower, increasing the stretch.
  • Gaze forward, and enjoy this pose for five breaths. Then switch sides.

LOCUST

Strengthening the back muscles can offer relief, and here’s an effective and relaxing pose to try.

Locust

  • Lie on your belly with your legs together. Place your arms by your sides so your palms are facing up.
  • As you inhale, lift your legs, head, and upper body off the floor. Your hands remain on the floor for support. As you breathe, extend the crown of your head away from your toes, lengthening as much as you can through your spine.
  • Stay for five breaths and then release back to the mat.

Here’s a more detailed description of how to do Locust A.

RECLINING BIG TOE POSE

Reclining Big Toe Pose

This gentle variation of Reclining Big Toe pose is done with a bent knee so you can really focus on stretching the lower back and hamstring of the leg that’s raised.

  • Lying on your back, bend your left knee slightly and plant your foot on the floor. Raise your right leg into the air, keeping your pelvis grounded. Hold your lower thigh or place a strap over the arch of your foot.
  • Keep your torso relaxed and hold for five breaths. Repeat on the left side.

SEATED SPINAL TWIST

Seated Spinal Twist

Creating some movement in the spine through twisting poses can relieve pressure from the sciatic nerve. As a bonus, this pose also targets the oh-so-tight piriformis muscle.

  • Begin seated on your mat with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and place your right heel as close to your right sit-bone as you can. Then bend your left knee and cross your left foot over your right knee. Plant it on the floor so your left ankle is next to your right knee.
  • Reach your left arm behind you and place your palm on the floor. Rest your right hand on your outer left thigh to gently increase the twist.
  • Gaze behind you and over your left shoulder, staying here for five breaths. Then release the twist, straighten your legs out in front of you, and do this pose with your right knee pointing up.

Check out this post if you’re itching for a deeper variation.

HALF WHEEL

Half Wheel

Some people will experience relief from engaging the glutes and hamstrings, so give this backbend a go.

  • Begin lying flat on your back with your arms along the sides of your body, with your palms facing down. Bend your knees, placing your heels as close as you can to your bum.
  • With your palms and feet pressing firmly into the ground, lift your hips up. Keep your palms on the mat or clasp your hands together below your pelvis, extending through your arms. Or you can also bend your elbows and rest your hands on your lower back. If your feet are close enough, you can also hold your ankles.
  • Stay here for five deep breaths, lifting your hips up as high as you can.

What Is Cellulite and What Causes It?

What Is Cellulite and What Causes It?

Some people will tell you that cellulite is just fat, plain and simple. Others will say that cellulite is composed of trapped toxins and excess water underneath the skin. The truth is that cellulite is

 a condition that affects the appearance of the skin in areas with underlying fat deposits (most noticeably on the buttocks and thighs), giving the skin a dimpled, lumpy appearance.

Fat, in and of itself, is not responsible for the lumpy, bumpy look of cellulite. In the right circumstances, fat can be a beautiful thing. In fact, facial fat is what’s responsible for the smooth and beautiful plump round cheeks you see on the young. Plastic surgeons even charge patients a lot of money to inject patients’ own fat into areas of the patients’ faces and bodies. In fact, fat injections are sometimes used as a treatment to improve the appearance of cellulite.

So what is it that makes cellulite different from “normal” fat? It is the structure of the overlying skin and of the underlying connective tissue that determines whether a given area has a smooth or rippled appearance.

Who Gets Cellulite?
Have you ever wondered why men are so much less likely to have cellulite, even when obese? Or why obese children usually do not have cellulite? Or why you see even very slim women with cellulite?

While the appearance of cellulite tends to worsen in proportion to the amount of fat present in the affected area, cellulite can affect even the thinnest women. The reason for this is that while fat deposits do exacerbate the condition, fat itself is not the primary cause.

Why Do I Have Cellulite?
Underneath the skin lies a layer of fibrous connective tissue that is responsible for adhering the skin to the muscle beneath it. In most men, this connective tissue is arranged in a cross-hatched or diagonal manner, in a smooth and continuous pattern.

The connective tissue of women is another story, running vertically (perpendicular to the skin). Because of this, these fibrous bands (called septae) tether the skin to the underlying tissue at certain points, essentially creating discrete “fat chambers” to push up on the skin while the bands pull the skin downward.

This difference in connective tissue arrangement (coupled with the fact that men usually have thicker skin than women) explains why far fewer men have cellulite than women.

Bad News First
When we are young, our connective tissue is supple and elastic, stretching and giving with the skin so that everything remains smooth. Then puberty hits, and hormones wreak havoc on the connective tissue, making it stiffer and less elastic. At the same time, our fat cells tend to expand in certain areas, pushing out on the skin.

As the bands of connective tissue contract and stiffen with age, they pull down on the skin even more. At the same time, increasing fat stores push outward in the surrounding areas. Put these two occurrences together, and the result is an unappealing landscape of dimples and bulges.

As we get older, the outer layer of skin weakens, thins, and loses elasticity. Gravity takes its toll, and the skin begins to sag. Since the connective septae remain intact and often contracts and stiffens further as time marches on, the appearance of cellulite continues to worsen with age.
Another probable aggravating factor in the development of cellulite is yo-yo dieting. Repeated cycles of weight gain and weight loss further compromise skin elasticity, making cellulite more pronounced.

The Good News
You can improve (not eliminate) the appearance of cellulite by living a healthy lifestyle. That means staying hydrated, not smoking, and yes, following a sensible diet and exercise program.

A combination of proper diet and exercise will decrease the layer of fat underneath the skin, making cellulite less noticeable. A proper diet can also be helpful in keeping the skin and connective tissue stronger, healthier, and more supple. In addition, staying properly hydrated and eating well will help prevent water retention (which exacerbates cellulite).

Exercise helps with cellulite in a multitude of ways. Not only does it help keep body fat levels lower, it also improves circulation and muscle tone in cellulite-prone areas. Improved circulation will keep both the skin and connective tissue healthier, as well as helping with elimination of waste and excess fluid retention.

The Ugly Truth
You may stick to world’s best diet and exercise program, and still have cellulite. The presence, severity, and location of cellulite are in large part determined by hormones and heredity.

While there are a few cellulite treatments and procedures1 that can somewhat improve the appearance of cellulite, there is no “cure” for cellulite. In fact, most of the cellulite “solutions” offered by those who would separate you from your hard-earned cash are little more than expensive placebos.

Sources:
Cellulite: A Review of its Physiology and Treatment; Mathew M. Avram; Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, Volume 6, Issue 4 December 2004
Cellulite: An Update; Press Release, American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, August 2003

Benefits of Pilates and Massage

Benefits of Pilates and Massage

PILATES

Pilates incorporates the mind and body focusing on the core or center of the body as its strength. Through rhythmic breathing Pilates conditions the whole body to build strength and lengthen muscles. Pilates also creates greater muscular and mental coordination developing better posture, balance and core strength in your body. Many modifications in movements can be made allowing for the workout to be available for beginners to advanced always giving a challenging workout.  Pilates helps in preventing injury and increases sports performance. A body with strength and flexibility is less likely to be injured. The exercises focus on the deep abdominal muscles along with the muscles closest to the spine. Pilates shapes, tones, lengthens and aligns the body without adding excess bulk.

Both Mat and Equipment Pilates, such as the reformer, work to make your body stronger. Mat classes tend to be easier to find and available at most gyms, however as you improve it may become harder to challenge your body. With the use of a Pilates reformer you work against spring resistance which adds a whole new level of strength training to your Pilates workout. The springs provide support for more difficult exercises that you can’t get on the mat. This allows you to work muscle groups more deeply and specifically.  The use of equipment also adds more range of motion, which allows you to get more results from each exercise. Pilates with the use of equipment like the reformer works better and faster to change the body.

 

 

 

MASSAGE

Experts estimate that upwards of ninety percent of disease is stress-related. And perhaps nothing ages us faster, internally and externally, than high stress. Massage is an effective tool for managing this stress, which translates into:

  • Decreased anxiety.
  • Enhanced sleep quality.
  • Greater energy.
  • Improved concentration.
  • Increased circulation.
  • Reduced fatigue.

Massage can also help specifically address a number of health issues. Bodywork can:

  • Alleviate low-back pain and improve range of motion.
  • Assist with shorter, easier labor for expectant mothers and shorten maternity hospital stays.
  • Ease medication dependence.
  • Enhance immunity by stimulating lymph flow—the body’s natural defense system.
  • Exercise and stretch weak, tight, or atrophied muscles.
  • Help athletes of any level prepare for, and recover from, strenuous workouts.
  • Improve the condition of the body’s largest organ—the skin.
  • Increase joint flexibility.
  • Lessen depression and anxiety.
  • Promote tissue regeneration, reducing scar tissue and stretch marks.
  • Pump oxygen and nutrients into tissues and vital organs, improving circulation.
  • Reduce postsurgery adhesions and swelling.
  • Reduce spasms and cramping.
  • Relax and soften injured, tired, and overused muscles.
  • Release endorphins—amino acids that work as the body’s natural painkiller.
  • Relieve migraine pain.

Learn to Lift Correctly to Help Prevent Back Injury

Figure anatomy of the Encyclopedia great Frenc...

Figure anatomy of the Encyclopedia great French of a muscle man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lesson 1: Good Posture and Body Mechanics Posture and body mechanics involves the way your body moves through space. Good posture means the natural curves of the spine are not stressed or

strained, but in a neutral position ready to absorb and distribute loads (e.g. weight) encountered during daily activities. Proper body mechanics incorporates good posture while the body is at rest or in motion. When good posture and body mechanics are working in harmony, spine injury may be prevented.

Lesson 2: Don’t Lift Yet – Evaluate the Situation Before you begin to lift something, assess the item’s size and weight. Test the weight by pushing it with your foot or by lifting a corner. If the item doesn’t easily move, get help. The job may require two people, splitting up the load, a hand-truck, dolly or lifting equipment.

Plan a safe route to the final destination. Map out a mental picture to the destination and plan for places to stop and rest. Before beginning to lift and move the item, clear away floor clutter (e.g. throw rugs, electrical cords), open closed doors, and be aware of stairs.

Lesson 3: Safe Lifting TipsThe following tips apply in most lifting situations.
• Position your body directly in front of and close to the item.
• Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart to give the body a solid foundation.
• Tighten your stomach muscles to help support the back.
Bend both at the hips and knees (power position) and squat close to the item.
• Take hold of the item and bring it close to your body.
• The way the item is held depends on its size and shape. For example: A small box can be held close to the body by gripping the box at the bottom with the elbows bent. Bending the arms will help to distribute the weight and lessen stress to the neck and shoulders. Work gloves may help to improve grip and protect the hands.
• Before lifting, remember:
▪ Keep your stomach muscles tight
▪ Look straight ahead
▪ Do not twist or turn your body while lifting
▪ Lift using the leg muscles, keeping the spine straight or tall
▪ Take your time, smoothly lift the item; avoid jerking movements
• Do not lift (or carry) items above the waist.
• When carrying the item, keep your knees slightly bent, take small steps, and use your feet to change direction (e.g. pivot).
• To set the item down:
▪ Keep the load close to the body
▪ Look straight ahead
▪ Do not twist the body
▪ Bend both at the hips and knees (squat down), keeping the spine straight or tall
▪ Release the item
▪ Stand up straight using the leg muscles

Lesson 4: Don’t StoopConsider the guidelines in Lesson 3 even if picking a piece of paper up off the floor. One of the worst body movements is stooping or bending over at the waist to lift anything. Stooping over places harmful stress on the lower back and can cause back injury.
Prevention at Hand The next time you are faced with a simple lifting task or challenge, remember to be aware of how your body moves through space. Make sure you include proper posture and good body mechanics in your lifting plan to help prevent back injury.

Types of Scar Tissue

Types of Scar Tissue

How an individual scar looks depends on a few things, including the circumstances of the injury and a person’s skin tone. For instance, a puncture wound causes a different looking scar than a burn wound, and whether the wound gets infected or not can also influence the appearance of the scar. A wound in a place w

here the skin is stretched tight, like the chest, often causes a thicker scar, since the body has to make more tissue to keep the wound from pulling open. Skin tone plays a role too. Though scars in general tend to turn white over time, those with dark skin may get scars that get darker with time. Those with darker skin may also be more prone to keloid scars.

There are five main types of scars:

Atrophic scars: These scars are sunken down into the skin. This type of scarring is often seen with acne scars or with wounds where skin or muscle is removed by an injury. This type of scarring can also happen when the body produces so much scar tissue in one area that it prevents new cells from growing where the wound took place.

Hypertrophic scars: These are usually red or purple and are slightly raised above the skin. They tend to fade and get flat over time.

Contracture scars: These types of scars often happen with burns, and end up pulling the skin in towards the site of the injury. This can make the skin look puckered around the wound.

Keloid scars: These are very elevated, red or dark scars that form when the body produces a lot of extra collagen in a scar. Keloid scars are actually a benign type of tumor, and often grow bigger than the area of the original injury. Those with darker pigmented skin are thought to be more prone to keloid scarring, but it’s not clear why.

Stretch marks: Also called striae, these are considered a unique type of scar since they don’t happen in response to an injury, but because of the skin being stretched rapidly, often during pregnancy or adolescence. The tissue here is often sunken a little into the skin, and tends to fade with time.

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