Exercise: not just for your body!!

We all hit the gym to make our bodies fine CustomFit specimens, but have you considered how it might help your brain as well? Yup, it’s true! Scientists are finding that some of the best exercise for the brain may be actual, physical exercise.

One study analyzed 2,800 women over age 65 to determine if physical activity boosted brainpower. It did! Participants who took brisk, 30-minute walks each day experienced slower mental decline than those who did not exercise at all. In fact, the researchers noted that the active group appeared, at least mentally, to be 5 to 7 years younger than the control group!

In another study done with people over 70 years of age, the more active group was 90 percent less likely to develop cognitive problems. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this research was that in addition to normal exercise, routine actions like simply standing up and walking around were quite beneficial.

They have even looked at the effects of exercise on the brain using MRI’s. Looking at people in their 70’s, researchers found that those who exercised, maintained larger brains than those that did not. In addition to which, they found that mentally stimulating activities didn’t have an impact on brain size. WOW!

Time to forget the Sudoku and recommit yourself to your CustomFit exercise routine!

As always, remember that a balanced approach is best. Combining regular exercise, good nutrition, and sleep habits, as well as taking time for family and friends, is a must for overall health and strong brains. Things that you enjoy are, well, more enjoyable. But, in the end, you want to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle for the long run. So, finding things that are fun with people you enjoy is a must!

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Core Training Debunked

Core Training….why do it? Years ago most of us just wanted “6-pack abs” for looks. More recently, however, we are much more aware of the importance of training the core and the fact that it has huge implications for functional stability and movement. So, do you really know what functional stability means? Are you sure of what you are training and why when you are doing all of your new “core “ exercises? Here is a brief explanation…

While most think of “core” as abdominal muscles, there is much more too it. While the muscles we typically target (even in more advanced core training) move the trunk and can act to help stabilize, I would consider them more a part of the global system (muscles that create movement) than the local system (muscles that create stability). There are much deeper muscles that one must connect to in order to establish and maintain true core (and entire body) stability. You can imagine these muscles as making up a sort of “can” in the middle of your body; in fact, if you are a part of CustomFit you most likely have been asked how your can is doing.

For those interested, the main muscles included in your “can” are the transversus abdominus (front and sides), multifidus (back), diaphram (“top), and pelvic floor (bottom). Some recent research also indicates that the psoas, typically included in the “hip flexor” group, acts more as a trunk stabilizer than a mover (trunk or leg). While the obliques (internal/external) do act to stabilize as well, it is the previous deep core muscles that are most difficult to articulate and connect to. In addition to acting as stabilizers during movement, it is also important to note that these deep core muscles have a natural “feed forward” function in that they enervate even before movement begins, preparing the body for stable movement (it is interesting to note that it has been suggested that this “feed forward” function is disrupted with even mild back pain).

As with your “can”, muscles throughout the body fall mostly into either the “mover” category or the “supportive” category. The muscles in the “supportive” category function to create stability so that you can move efficiently and effectively (the fancy name for that is load transfer). If the supportive muscles, especially of the core, are weak or otherwise not functioning correctly, your ability to move through space well is compromised. Taking this idea a step further, if we think about transferring energy or movement through the body (load transfer) we automatically understand more accurately the term “functional training/movement”. Your leg bone IS connected to the thigh bone but, they are also connected through an system of muscle and facia that run along anatomical linkages or chains (for example, the anterior oblique chain includes muscles that help you throw a ball, serve a tennis ball or even reach behind you for something overhead) - cool!

Because everything is so interconnected, a breakdown or weakness in one part of body can affect other parts (we often call this accommodation). Connecting to your deep core stabilizers is a first step to ensuring you are bringing stability to your body so that you can effectively transfer load (remember, all that means is move well without breakdown). Poor core function on the short term decreases your output and effective movement. Long term, it will ALWAYS lead to dysfunction somewhere in the body and eventual breakdown…muscle, joint, bone, disc….

So, in summary, find your “can”. If you can’t (and it is sometimes difficult), come to a class or two at CustomFit and we’ll teach you!

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To Shoe or Not To Shoe?

Barefoot running….is it good? Is it bad? What IS the deal? Many have asked my opinion on this phenomenon so, I figured the New Year is as good a time as any to weight in.

As with any fad or diet or new piece of equipment or technique, the question of whether it is good or bad, right or wrong is seldom black and white. Depending upon the person or situation it may be appropriate, or not. My first step is always to ask the proverbial question…”why”? If you are interested in running barefoot because you want to feel the ground under your feet, ok, but what about the rocks, stones and uneven surfaces you will encounter? If you are looking at running barefoot because you’ve heard it will improve your running form and/or gait, is it really your shoes that are causing poor biomechanics?

Although, in general I agree that developing good strength and proprioception in your foot and lower leg is important, I am not convinced that moving to barefoot running is the best way to go about it. Because most of us have spent most of our days in shoes, the muscles, bones, and tendons of the feet and lower leg are unused to walking (much less running) without support of some kind. This can result in weakness, which can, in turn, result in chronic issues that may affect the foot and ankle (in addition to potential issues up the entire chain - lower leg, knee, hip…). Strengthening the muscles of the foot and teaching it (and the lower leg) better balance and proprioception typically has a positive effect on running (and walking) form and can decrease potential chronic issues. While running barefoot has the potential to strengthen the muscles of the foot it seems to me the risks of injury (without proper introduction to the activity itself) are too great.

When barefoot, in order to protect the foot, we naturally raise more onto the toe. While moving off the heel may help correct an over-stride issue (too long of a gait with heavy heel strike), to over-correct and become a toe-runner isn’t the greatest idea either. It places stress on the metatarsals and muscles of the calf, which, if you are running barefoot, is exacerbated by the fact that you have no support whatsoever for muscles that are not really used to working. In short, you will trade one problem for another. For those who have issues with arch support and/or pronation, moving to an unsupported, high-impact activity such as running severely increases injury potential not only in the foot, but up the entire chain (including the spine) as well.

Doing specific exercises to strengthen the feet, lower leg, and improve balance and propriception are a great way to improve function without unduly increasing your risk of injury. Taking the opportunity to walk barefoot as often as possible (assuming the surface is safe, like in your house) is a great way to make the muscles of the feet work the way they were intended. Exercises such as (barefoot) heel raises, single leg balancing (like you get in YOGA J ), and even specific exercises like towel scrunchies (described below) are also an excellent way to strengthen the muscles of the foot and ankle. Doing these kinds of exercises can even strengthen the foot enough that it requires less support and you can move to a lighter shoe, which can help you feel FAST.

In the end, barefoot running is probably not the BEST way to strengthen your feet and/or become a more efficient runner. However, if you REALLY want to run barefoot for the feel of the ground under your feet, be sure you take the necessary precautions. Know YOUR foot and where it is weak and strong. Know your gait and how close to “optimal” you are. Make sure you strengthen your foot BEFORE you go out for that first 5 mile run. And, make sure that the surface you will on is foot-friendly so you don’t end up stepping on something that will hurt or injure. If you have taken all the necessary precautions, go for it! Maybe try your speed warm-up and drills, if you do them, barefoot. Or, try the last cool-down 1/2 mile unshod...whatever you do, watch your step!

Train hard, train smart and have fun!


Although you can do this exercise seated, I prefer to have my clients (and myself!) standing.

Stand in neutral make sure your body is in good alignment and stable (i.e., try not to lean complete onto supporting leg or hike the hip out, etc.)

With toes of one foot (“working”) at the edge of a hand towel, pull the towel in with the toes, “scrunching” it toward the middle and heel of foot.

Keep heel down and move only with toes (if you have plantar issues, this may not be the most comfortable but is a good way to strengthen as long as it does not aggravate the situation or HURT…”discomfort” ok, HURT not ok)

Do 2-3 sets EACH FOOT (regardless of whether only one seems weak).

Personally, I like to follow with either rolling (on a ball or foot roller) or, at the very least, do a stretch for the soleus and foot (soleus stretch w/ toes flexed against a wall)

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Good Nutrition for Busy Families

Labor Day is here and fall schedules are starting to rev up. If you haven’t found yourself ultra busy yet with the kids’ schedules, you probably will. Undoubtedly your intention is to feed your family healthy things. Sometimes, though, you just don’t have enough time for everything and a quick trip through the drive through becomes routine.

Now, most of us would agree that McDonald’s and Burger King aren’t the best nutrition to choose. However, most of us haven’t really LOOKED at the scary nutritional facts of some kids meals. Here are some highlights of the top 5 worst:

McDonalds Mighty Kids Meal: Double Cheese burger, French Fries, and chocolate milk. 840 calories, 37 grams of fat

Wendy’s Kids Meal: Chicken sandwich, french fries, chocolate Frosty. 770 calories, 34 grams of fat

KFC Kids meal: popcorn chicken, potato wedges, string cheese, soda. 800 calories, 25 grams of fat, 1800 mg sodium (yikes!)

Burger Kings BK Kids Breakfast muffin sandwich meal: breakfast muffin sandwich, hash browns, orange juice. 790 calories, 42 grams of fat (13 of it SATURATED!!!) and 95 mg cholesterol

The frightening thing is that these meals would be considered unhealthy for most adults in terms of total calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Not to mention there is a significant absence of actual nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc. you get from real food). If your child is a 16 year old boy who is on his way to 2 hours of hard swim practice, ok. Perhaps he needs the calories (if he hasn’t eaten an adequate lunch) but in any other situation the number of calories and fat most likely won’t do your child any favors.

I know, it is HARD when everyone is so busy and pressed for time. You find yourself barely able to pick the kids up and get them to their activities – the drive through often seems like the only option. I remember having the same challenges when my daughter was that age. Here are a few ideas that will help you keep your child going and keep your peace of mind:

Yogurt is a GREAT snack and can be a vehicle for all sorts of healthy, energy packed items. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and granola are great additions. Let your kids get creative about what they add (within reason); they may come up with something that surprises you!

Sandwiches aren’t just for lunch. ½ of a sandwich (or even a whole, depending upon what your kids needs are) of lean deli (or other) meat on whole grain bread is a great snack. Why not use last night’s roasted chicken? Or, what about good ‘ol peanut butter (we prefer the natural stuff…avoid added sugar and trans-fat) with honey, low-sugar jam or even bananas?

Peanut Butter with celery or carrot sticks was always a favorite in our house. ½ an apple or banana with peanut butter is a good treat too. Or, what about trying those things with cream cheese...also a fav!

String cheese is a great snack if you don’t have refrigeration all day. A couple of those with a piece of fruit – yummm!

Hummus is a great snack with any kind of veggies for dipping or baked chips (a FEW). You can get it in the deli section or, better yet, make your own (watch for a recipe in CustomFit's Cookbook). Did you know that garbanzo beans are one of the top 5 most nutritious beans/legumes???

Believe it or not, we often did hard boiled eggs. Peel them, put in a Ziploc along with a SMALL amount of salt and pepper, and you have a protein boost. Or, if the kids prefer, make an egg salad sandwich (as long as they aren’t carrying it all day in their backpacks. :)

Have your kids help you build their own trail mix. Put their favorite nuts, dried fruit and maybe even granola. This is a super power packed and EASY-to-transport snack. If you resist the temptation to load it with extra sugar (i.e., m n m’s) it's nothing but goodness.

The most important thing is that you have to plan, plan, plan. I know I say this about everything. But, it's true. If you wait until you are in the car with hungry kids, stopping for a “healthy” snack won’t work. Ever (well, at least it didn't in our house). Take a few minutes on the weekend and plan your snacks. Involving your kids in the planning AND preparation (even grocery shopping) will help them feel a part of the process and empowered about taking care of their bodies. And, when they resist, be strong. Remember the calorie counts above and stick to your guns. Also, be cautious about “nutrition bars”. Unless you are REALLY in a pinch, they often aren’t much better. Most of them have tons of added sugar and who knows what else. In addition, a big part of this exercise is teaching your kids the importance of eating REAL FOOD.

If you don’t have kids apply the above to yourself. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one guilty of swinging through the drive through when I’m SUPER HUNGRY and have not planned well….. right?

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