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Surprising Benefits of Walking for Mental and Physical Health

“Morning Walk” by /\ltus is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

One important but often overlooked aspect of a healthy lifestyle and even injury rehabilitation is walking. Walking is a simple way to improve physical fitness and health while reducing the risk of various diseases.

The Benefits of Walking

Physical activity doesn’t need to be complicated. Although walking is often overlooked, science shows that putting one foot in front of the other can have some impressive mental and physical benefits.

  • It helps to maintain a healthy weight and trim body fat.
  • Increases energy levels and improves mood, memory, and sleep.
  • Reduces stress and tension in the body.
  • It eases joint pain and boosts immune system function.
  • Improves cardiovascular health and muscle endurance.
  • Reduced risk of common health problems such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

You may be asking yourself, “That sounds great, but how much should I be walking to reap all these benefits?”

How Many Steps Should You Get Per Day?

Walking is one of the best low-impact forms of exercise that can be done on a lunch break, while talking on the phone, or to get to your favorite coffee shop down the street.

Although the exact number of steps per day can vary based on age, health, and fitness goals, most experts recommend at least 10,000 steps per day. As a general rule of thumb, the faster, farther, and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefit you’ll experience.

By completing 10,000 steps per day, most adults can burn an extra 2,000–3,500 calories while also reaping the incredible benefits of additional cardiovascular exercise.

Not only is walking a great time to disconnect and unwind, but it will also improve your mental and physical health. 10,000 steps per day is a great goal for anyone looking to jumpstart a healthy lifestyle. However, if you want a more personalized approach, a physical therapist from our clinic in Bethesda can help!

How Stiff Ankles Lead to Back Pain

Those of you that have been to athletic physical therapy have likely learned about how a limitation in one area of the body can contribute to pain or injury elsewhere. It is common to find that runners, fitness enthusiasts, and other active people experiencing chronic lower back pain also have stiff ankles.

Exercises such as squats and lunges are a staple of many workouts and group exercise classes. These movements, in addition to many others, require a great deal of ankle dorsiflexion (the action of the knee moving over the toe). If an individual has stiff ankles and wishes to perform these activities, he or she must compensate and figure out another way to complete the exercise.

People are forced to reach their bottoms farther backwards when stiff ankles prevent their knees from advancing far enough beyond their toes. This pushes belly button forward in an effort to avoid falling backwards. As a result, the lower back arches excessively, compressing the area, and often results in discomfort.

Check out the article below from fellow Northeastern University Alumni, and former Physical Therapist for the Red Sox, Mike Reinold, to learn how you can measure if you have enough ankle dorsiflexion.

Ankle Mobility Exercises to Improve Dorsiflexion

Now that you measured your ankle dorsiflexion, what do you do about it if it?

In addition to some of Mike’s great recommendations, we suggest that you try the activities below from Dr. Cody!

If any of these activities cause pain or result in a pinching sensation in the front of the ankle, please contact us.

Have fun!

Fact or Fiction: Do our bodies actually fall out of alignment?

We are excited to begin a series of posts discussing common myths in the realm of athletic physical therapy. Today’s myth commonly applies to back pain physical therapy as well.

Many of our patients have been told that their body may be “out of alignment”, or that their joints need to be “re-aligned.” Unfortunately, this is not the greatest advice.

Human beings are never in a static position. Even at rest, the simple act of breathing creates movement. By definition, being in alignment means that our bodies are in a straight line, or that all parts of our body are consistently in the appropriate relative positions to one another.

We cannot consistently be in alignment because we are always moving. If our body was constantly aligned, we would be unable to move anywhere.

Your body can feel as if it is out of alignment when you overuse or rely upon specific movement strategies or body positions. This can happen for a myriad of reasons and results in feelings of stiffness and discomfort that often temporarily feel better with an adjustment.

An adjustment can be helpful if the causes of stiffness or discomfort are also addressed. The root causes of stiffness or discomfort are typically addressed by focusing on movement limitations that are present.

Any relief provided by an adjustment will be temporary when the root cause of the discomfort or stiffness is left unaddressed. Check out the article below for some activities that may help!

3 Home Exercises to Help Your Back Pain

We hope that this provided some insight into a common rehab myth. Stay tuned for more to come!

Could this be the missing piece of your marathon training?

In a previous blog post, we introduced mat Pilates and how it helps people that are struggling with back pain.  However, many athletes use Pilates to improve other aspects of their performance and CHP’s own, Dr. Ciara Petry, uses it as part of her physical therapy treatment sessions.

As you know, Bethesda and Chevy Chase are packed with athletic people and runners of all levels. Many of these runners are preparing for a variety of races. Running volume increases as a runner prepares for a race, which increases the need for cross training. Cross training allows runners to enhance qualities that improve running performance.  However, it is important to avoid adding more pounding to the body in the process.

At Cohen Health and Performance, we have found Pilates to be incredibly helpful in this regard. Weekly supplementation of Pilates training helps to improve performance and/or reduce the risk of running related injuries.

Pilates includes low impact and multi-planar movements that enhance core stability, mobility, and other foundational components necessary for healthy running.

In an article published in 2018, Finatto et al performed a study measuring the effect of a 12-week Pilates mat program on running performance. The participants in this study were separated into 2 groups. Both groups participated in a run training program, however one of the groups also participated in classic mat Pilates training 2x/week for 1-hour per session. The study found that the Pilates group had been more resilient to fatigue when running. It was also found that runners in the Pilates training group significantly improved their 5-km times, thus suggesting that distance runners can transfer the gains made in Pilates to running!

Integrating Pilates into a runner’s performance training just 1-2x/week can improve running efficiency and performance. How cool is that?!

Here at CHP, we help our athletes conquer injury and optimize performance. Reach out today to schedule a running analysis with one of our performance physical therapists and to Dr. Ciara Petry, a certified Mat Pilates instructor, for personalized Pilates sessions!

Article for Reference: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0194057

Why Some Warmups Aren’t Useful

As performance physical therapists in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, we work within a very knowledgeable and active community.  Our clients and patients understand the importance of warming up.

Warming up is commonly touted as essential for anyone wishing to avoid injury during exercise, performance training, or running.

We agree with this statement; however, warmup routines are often implemented in a non-productive way.

There is a time and place for everything, however this does not mean that you need to stretch, roll around on the ground, and perform “activation” drills prior to being ready for exercise.

In addition to increasing total body temperature, a warmup routine should prepare the body for the specific workout that is going to take place. For this reason, we call warming up “movement preparation.” The body is being prepared to move!

Movement preparation should include drills that train the skills necessary for the day’s workout. Many times, these drills will look similar to the exercises within that day’s work out.

If you are getting ready to run, perform activities that practice things necessary to run effectively. If you are going to lift weights, practice movements similar to the lifts you are going to perform (ie. If you are going to squat, then squat in your warmup!).

This advise applies regardless of whether you are healthy, injured, in performance physical therapy, or training for performance.

Below are 2 drills that we often use during movement preparation prior to running. Each drill practices single leg balance, the ability to shock absorb on one leg, and trunk rotation. These are all attributes necessary for running.

Single leg knee to chest
Forward lunge with cross connect

Furthermore, if you have been sitting at a desk for the majority of the day, you may need a more comprehensive warmup. On the other hand, if you have an active job requiring you to move in a variety of different ways then your warmup may not need to be as comprehensive.

Movement preparation is necessary, however it is essential to be purposeful, rather than mindlessly performing the same thing before every workout.

3 Home Exercises to Help with Your Back Pain

Did you know that according to research, over 70% of Americans will experience back pain during their lives?

Surprisingly, this statistic remains high among active people. Sometimes their training even contributes to it!

One of the things you can do to help reverse this trend is to implement Pilates into your training. Dr. Ciara is a physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor. She has taught us how to incorporate Pilates into the treatment of physical therapy patients right here in Bethesda and Chevy Chase. These principles can also be used in performance training.

The good news is that Pilates doesn’t require you to go to a Pilates studio. Many Pilates exercises can be done from home and performed within your training regimen.

Begin with the 3 exercises below.

  1. Roll like a ball into Zen Teaser (C-Curve)
  2. Single Leg Stretch
  3. Curtsy Reach

The goal of these activities are to teach you how to control your body using your deep abdominals and glutes. Therefore, it is essential to focus on quality of movement, rather than the quantity performed. There are no heros with these exercises!

To learn more about Pilates, check out last weeks article below!

What Actually is Pilates?