Smart Body Moves

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You’re a very busy person who finds it difficult to put aside a half- hour every day for working out. You’d love to find simple exercises you could conveniently fit into your daily schedule. Particularly welcome would be those that help to protect and strengthen your back, enhance the range of motion of your joints and muscles and provide your body with a maximum intake of oxygen for a minimum of effort. You need to look no farther. Here are three body moves that meet these criteria.

At least a quarter of the world’s humans squat regularly. In Africa and Latin America, for example, people use a squatting posture for both work and rest. In these countries the back problems that plague industrialized nations such as ours are virtually unknown.

Squatting prevents an exaggeration of the lumbar curve of the spine (at waist level). This eases pressure on the discs cushioning spinal bones (vertebrae) through gentle traction. It also lessens tension on spinal muscles and ligaments. It promotes spinal flexibility and both strengthens and relaxes the back.

When to squat
Some ways in which to incorporate squatting into your daily activities include dusting the lower parts of furniture, putting items into or removing them from lower drawers, attending to a small child , pulling up weeds in your garden or waiting for a pot to boil.

How to squat
1. From a standing position, lower your body as if to sit on your heels. Try to keep your feet flat on the floor.

2. Relax your jaw and breathe regularly as you hold (maintain) the squatting posture as long as you can before standing up again.

If you have varicose veins, avoid holding the squatting posture for more than a few seconds at a time. Instead, alternate squatting with standing. Please check with your doctor.

Stretching improves the range of motion of joints and muscles. It helps to prevent injury and quickens recovery from daily activities. It promotes the removal of body wastes and enhances the transport of nutrients. It strengthens muscles.

When to stretch
Do a leisurely head-to-toes stretch before getting out of bed every morning. Alternatively, stand at the side of your bed, inhale and stretch your arms overhead, hold the stretch for several seconds and lower your arms as you exhale.

Periodically stretch your legs while sitting at your work station. Push your heels away and pull your toes toward you. Maintain the stretch for several seconds but keep breathing regularly. Exhale and relax your legs and feet. Repeat the stretch once or twice.

Look for ways to stretch your body and limbs during your work-day: while at the photocopier, in the washroom or in an empty conference room. Stretch during television commercial breaks or while waiting for the stove timer to ring.

Diaphragmatic breathing
About 80 per-cent of the work of breathing is accomplished by the diaphragm. This is a dome-shaped muscle located between the chest and abdominal cavities.

Resting on the diaphragm are the two lungs, the bottoms of which (the wider parts) rest on the diaphragm. Here, the blood flow is over a liter per minute. By contrast, the blood flow at the top of the lungs (the narrower part) is less than a tenth of a liter. Most of us use only the top of our lungs because of shallow breathing.

It is also at the bottom of the lungs, where the diaphragm is situated, that oxygen from inhaled air reaches air sacs and moves into the bloodstream in exchange for carbon dioxide which is exhaled.

Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing
Apart from enhancing blood circulation and the exchange of gases, all body systems benefit from breathing diaphragmatically including the skin, our largest visible organ. Other benefits are an increase in the volume of air in each respiratory cycle (inhalation and exhalation), a decrease in the volume of air remaining in the lungs at the end of each complete exhalation, better exercise tolerance, an enhanced ability to cope with stress and improved nervous system functioning. In fact, diaphragmatic breathing is the most efficient way to breathe. For a minimum of effort you receive a maximum intake of oxygen.

Rhythmic Diaphragmatic Breathing
If you had to choose one exercise to do every day, this is the one to select. Here’s how to do it.

1. Lie at full length on your back (supine) with a pillow, cushion or folded towel under your head. Relax your jaw and breathe regularly.

2. Rest one hand lightly on your abdomen, just below your breast bone. Rest the fingers of your other hand on your chest just beneath the nipple.

3. Inhale through your nose slowly, smoothly and as deeply as you can without strain. As you do so, the hand on your abdomen should rise as the abdomen moves upward. There should be little or no movement of the fingers on your chest.

4. Exhale through your nose or pursed lips (as if cooling a hot drink) slowly, smoothly and as completely as possible without force. As you do so, the hand on your abdomen should move downward as the abdomen contracts (tightens).

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 several times in smooth succession.

6. Relax your arms and hands. Breathe regularly.

When you first try this exercise, place a light-weight object on your abdomen. It will give you visual feed-back about the co-ordination between your breathing and the action of your abdominal muscles. Once you have mastered the technique lying supine, you can do it in any other position. You can also integrate it into activities such as painting, vacuum cleaning and walking either on a level surface or up and down the stairs.

Smart body moves require you to use your body and its parts in such a way as to place a minimum of stress on these structures. They promote a high standard of health and increase your overall efficiency. Squatting, stretching and breathing deeply are three of the smartest moves you can make.

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