Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Body Fat

I participated in the Coal Creek Family YMCA's Health Fair last weekend. The most popular booth was the Body Fat Calculation, where a personal trainer used calipers to measure skin thickness in several places to determine the body fat percentage for the curious. We stood in line to have our skin pinched, reveal personal information, and then receive the (usually) unhappy news.

If you'd like to check your own body fat percentage with less embarrassment, there are several available online. My favorite is from You will need a tape measure for your waist, hips, and neck, plus your height and weight. The Body Mass Index calculator uses wrist and forearm measurements instead of the neck. This test isn't as accurate as a caliper test nor the even more trustworthy, expensive, and wet body dunk test, but it is easy to do and private.

According to the American Heart Association, a body fat percentage of 18.5 to 24.9 is healthy. Less than that is underweight (yes, we do need some fat for healthy organ functioning) and 25% or more is overweight. More than overall weight, the amount of weight from fat is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

There is considerable variation between the tests, so you can't take one as the ultimate answer. However, taking the time for a few tests will give you valuable information about your health.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review: Muscular Retraining for Pain-Free Living

To be blunt, and a bit simplistic, there are two types of people:
Those who are willing to do what it takes to get out of or prevent pain, and
Those who don’t want to make any changes but want pain to go away.

If you are the type of person who has been looking for changes to keep you pain-free, I recommend Muscular Retraining for Pain-Free Living by Craig Williamson, MSOT. In this enlightening text Williamson notes that kinesthetic dysfunction (the inability to sense and perceive parts of the body) creates Dysfunctional Movement Patterns (DMPs) that cause internal, repetitive injury.

Unfortunately, most people have many dysfunctional patterns that cause pain, for example sitting in front of a computer with shoulders rounded and head forward, lifting objects by hinging in the low back, straining the neck to stand up, and walking with misaligned knees to name a few. However, this book will help you discover and correct these ineffective tendencies.

“If you want to discover a new way of using your body or performing an activity, you need to break free of your DMPs. You do this by letting go, by feeling your muscles and alignment in new ways, by coordinating your movement in new ways—and by observing what happens.” (p. 49)

I like that Williamson uses easy-to-understand language and comprehensively covers sources of dysfunction, from bad habits to past injury to poor posture to unconscious emotional tightening. The movement explorations in the book help you build your kinesthetic awareness and the exercises help you replace ineffective patterns with effortless, balanced strength and flexibility.

My favorite part of this book is the emphasis on non-forced movement. “In fact, muscular retraining involves moving as easily as possible by avoiding the use of any unnecessary muscles.” (p. 46)

If you’ve suffered from chronic pain and think that the key to pain relief is to try harder and do more, Muscular Retraining for Pain-Free Living will be a pleasant and effective change of pace. If you live relatively pain-free, the advice in this book will help you stay that way.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Assess Your Health

It's not surprising that five of the top ten bestsellers in the Health, Mind & Body category at relate to losing weight. The combination of post-holiday feasting and new-New Year resolutions has million of Americans thinking about losing pounds.

I started a de-tox diet on Sunday; we'll see how long I can go without sugar, gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffiene, and all chemical additives. My goal is 14 days to give my liver and digestive system an internal make-over.

To help you get started with your health goals, I highly recommend a health assessment. offers several free assessment tools that help you determine your general health, cardiac, and diabetes risks and other surveys to measure your overhealth health and fitness. The tools are free, but you will need to create a user login first.

According to, a combination of diet and exercise is the most effective to control weight. In addition, exercise has additional health benefits in terms of reducing blood pressure, improving mental health, and decreasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Why not pick up a new form of exercise this year? My fitness assessment accurately notes that I need more aerobic exercise. So I'll start jogging again soon (and this year wear my MP3 player to make it more fun) and will go swimming and dancing every month.

However you decide to improve your health in 2010, I wish you the best. Please feel free to share your goals if it will help you commit to them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Exercise of the Month: Hula Hoop

For the new year try an exercise that you'll enjoy and that has a multitude of benefits. It's aerobic, tones muscles, has an initial invesment of about $5, and can be done anywhere. Grab a hula hoop (you can buy them at any toy store or even Target) and give it a spin.

Don't worry if you can't keep the hoop up for long, like the little girls in this video, you'll still get good exercise just trying. Soon, you'll be like the ladies who can hoop and squat and smile all at the same time.

Additionally, your spine will get nourished with undulations, especially as you master the movement and use deeper, core muscles.