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My Favourite Things: The Spring Edition

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EXERCISE
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It is that time again ... "favourite things" time! In February 2016 I compiled my first "favourite things" blog -- a list of current favourite exercises, nutrition tips, recipes, and health mantras. I am now obsessed with these lists; stockpiling beloved mantras and exercises to share is such a pocket of joy. This edition includes two of my favourite fascial stretches, my mantras of the month, and tips on how to use exercise to boost your immune health.

1. Favourite way to stretch: Fascial stretching

I am currently renewing my fascial stretching certification from the Stretch To Win Institute. (Fascia is sheets of connective webbing that encases and connects the entire body; it unites bones and muscles.) I do partner fascial stretching with clients, but attending the course reminded me how wonderful the motions feel in my own body. I am now re-motivated to prioritize fascial stretching after every run.

Try the 90/90 on the floor.

Start seated on the floor. Both legs at 90-degree angles: your right leg at 90 degrees in front of you and your left at 90 degrees behind you.
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Rotate your torso to your right, hands on the floor in front of your thigh. Keep your chest out as you hinge forward slightly. Breathe.

Come back to face front. Sit tall. Hinge forward from your hips. Place your hands on the floor in front of your shin. Breathe.

Finish by rotating your torso to the left. Again, keep your chest out as you hinge forward.
Switch and do the exercise with your left knee at a 90-degree angle in front of you and your right behind you.

If you can't get down onto the floor (at work or if you are very stiff) try the seated figure four flow.

Sit in a chair with your right ankle on your left knee. Push gently on your right thigh. Make sure to stay sitting tall. Don't slouch!
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Rotate your torso slightly to your right. Keep your chest out as you hinge forward slightly. Breathe.
Face front. Again, sit as tall as possible as you hinge forward from your hips. Breathe.
Finish by rotating your torso slightly to the left. Hinge forward. Don't round your back.
Repeat with you left ankle crossed over your right knee.

2. Favourite mantras: "Action before motivation" and "Kathleen...put your big girl pants on and DO something"

Too many of us self-sabotage our health efforts with thoughts such as "I feel un-motived...I guess today is not the day. I will have more motivation tomorrow" -- as if motivation is something we find on the side of the road. Stop buying into the idea that you have to be motivated to act. Flip that mindset. Have you ever noticed that once you start DOING something, the action you were dreading is never actually that onerous? Or if it is terrible, at least it is terrible and DONE so you feel productive and proud that you "adulted" well.

Motivation is made not found. Think "action BEFORE motivation."

When I don't want to do something I say "Kathleen...action will bring motivation...just start." I make myself do the dreaded task (run, write, do the dishes, or go to a party) for 10 minutes. Once I start I almost always just keep going -- I finish my run or complete a column. Sometimes I think I "adult" well only because of this 10-minute rule. It saves my bacon daily.

Normalize that it will take "activation energy" to start, but once you get going you will get lost in the task and most likely keep going. Make yourself start. Tell yourself, as I do, "My future self will be happy if I ACT. My future self will be proud that I put my big girl pants on and decided to adult."

3. Favourite reason to exercise: Immune health

When you need some motivating self-talk to spur on movement, tell yourself "Self, you don't want to get sick, so get moving...exercising boosts immune health."

Low- to moderate-intensity activity positively affects immune health. Intense or prolonged workouts can decrease immune resilience for up to 72 hours, which -- when you are healthy and given appropriate recovery tools such as sleep and a nutritious diet -- is a good thing. The body adapts to the stress of an intense workout. Over time this progressive adaptation makes you -- and your immune system -- stronger.

When sick, the stress of an intense workout is no longer a positive stimulus, but that doesn't mean "do nothing." Yes, avoid activity vigorous enough to further stress the body, but purposeful breathing, stretching, and low- to moderate-intensity workouts such as walking -- in proportion to your symptoms -- can help, not hinder, your recovery.

Ty these gentle stretches. Aim for an intensity of two out of 10.

Diaphragmatic breaths: Place one hand on your upper chest. Breathe into your diaphragm, expanding the air equally into your sides and stomach. Your stomach should rise slightly, but the hand on your chest should not. Your neck should not contract or tighten. Practise breathing on the sofa, in bed, or while walking around your home.

Ankle and hand rotations: Rotate your ankles and wrists 10 times in each direction.

Knee to chest: Lie on your back. Pull one knee to your chest for 30 seconds. Switch and repeat.

Hip-flexor stretch: Step your right leg behind you, both feet facing forward, knees slightly bent. Tuck your pelvis so your right hip bones move toward your ribs. Feel a stretch up the front of your right thigh. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Standing calf stretch: Stand on a step with the ball of your right foot on the edge. Let your right heel fall toward the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs.
Shoulder/arm rotations: Stand. Roll your shoulders backward once. Then, circle your entire arm backward once. Repeat both three times. Feel your shoulder blades move through both.

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