What, exactly, is balance? It’s “the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall”.(1) Think about it like this: it’s your centre of gravity over your base of support. That’s why four-legged creatures have an easier time maintaining balance on slippery surfaces: they have a lower centre of gravity and a wider base of support.
We all need good balance to safely move around our world on a daily basis, but have you ever thought about it? If you’ve ever lost your balance, fallen and sustained an injury, you get it. Balance is a critical component of walking - because walking is essentially a weight transfer and balance exercise. One foot, then the other. Repeat. If you’re having trouble with balance, how will you be with walking? Well, walking will also be difficult, and that’s when you’re most likely to risk a fall.
If balance is a challenge for you, you’re likely more aware of its importance. The ability to maintain an upright position without falling over — it’s cute when a toddler is learning to walk unaided. A young child falls regularly, but over time, their balance improves and they fall less. As adults, poor balance can be life-threatening and, frankly, quite frightening.
As we age, our balance is impacted negatively by our aging bodies:
- cells die in our vestibular system, which is connected to the centre in our brain that controls balance,
- our vision declines and with it, our depth perception,
- changes to our blood pressure may cause dizziness, lightheadness or blurriness,
- we lose muscle mass, strength, and power — this can slow our reaction time if we trip,
- our reflexes and coordination also decline, and
- a variety of health problems may also impact our balance, including arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.(2)
So, how is your balance? Did you know it’s actually one of your senses?(3) The myth that we have only 5 senses - sight, taste, touch, feeling, & hearing - can be traced back to Aristotle. But scientists know that we have many more than five. These include the sense of movement, temperature, hunger, thirst, pain, balance, and proprioception. Fitness professionals in the functional fitness realm regularly refer to proprioception - your ability to sense where the parts of your body are without seeing them. You know, how you can get up in the dark and walk to your bathroom without falling over. And think about a law-enforcement official asking you to close your eyes and touch your nose as a sobriety test. That’s proprioception!
Regular physical activity is key to maintaining good balance. An exercise program that focuses on specific balance exercises as well as core strengthening and movement patterns will improve balance and stability, not to mention daily function.
- Test yourself: set a timer and stand on one leg; repeat on the other side (this is your baseline)
- Check your feet/remove your shoes to engage proprioception
- Bend your standing leg to lower your centre of gravity
- Focus on a static point (e.g., during class, not me, but a point above my head)
- Think about your joints, making them as light as possible
- Slight pelvic tilt, engage the abs
- If in doubt, reset by lowering your leg to the ground
- Airplane arms out to the side to increase your base of support
- Stand near a wall/chair or gently touch a wall/chair with your hand
- Need more help? Sign up for one of my online courses, “3 Days to Better Balance” or “Balance 2.0”
What’s on your bucket list? Are you missing out on life? Has a fear of falling or a past fall impacted how and when you go out? As we get older, the risk of falls that can injure us increases. As a result, individuals like you curb their activity levels. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you take ownership of your body, you can be as active as you like. Working on improving your balance and strengthening your muscles will increase your confidence and reduce the risk of a fall. So you can get back to enjoying your life, and continue to tackle that bucket list.
Your body was designed to last a lifetime; but you need to use it daily for lasting effects. I have created online courses that can help: “3 Days to Better Balance” and “Balance 2.0: Progressions in Motion”. Both include daily videos with exercises and instructions on how to use more muscles in daily life. You’ll also receive daily check-ins with me via email or text message - this will help keep you on track with your goals.
Here’s some feedback from participants completed my online balance courses:
“I found as I stood at the sink doing my teeth, and at the bus stop, being very aware of my standing base.”
“Wow so great for my unconscious winter hunched shoulders’ posture!”
“I really needed the 3 Day Balance work. It was great.”
A. How often do you walk sideways? It’s a great way to strengthen your inner and outer thighs - aka, your adductor and abductor muscles. Sideways walking can help improve your balance, by strengthening these smaller stabilizing muscles. And it’s great brain training too - since we don’t typically walk sideways, your body and brain have to exert more effort to move.
B. Backwards walking to improve your balance? You betcha! It’s important to rely on more than just your eyes when you’re moving around in life. Walking backwards helps you improve your proprioception, by relying on the input from your feet.
It’s also strengthening your brain-body connection by creating new pathways in your brain. AND improving coordination in the lower half of your body.
Michael Jordan’s name is synonymous with basketball; some even say he’s the best player ever. I certainly think he is, but not just for his game performance. When he stepped on a court, his sheer love of the game emanated from every pore.(1) It made me want to play basketball too.
So I tried out for the women’s varsity team in my first year of university. I didn’t make the team, but I did make the training team. I was asked to be team manager of the UPEI Lady Panthers. This unpaid role had me practicing with them every day, and recording game stats both at home and on the road. We even won the Atlantic championship (AUAA) and headed to the nationals — both for the first-time ever!
I still enjoy shooting hoops, and I’m pleased to see that my son, Simon, has taken such an avid interest in basketball. In my opinion, he’s the greatest basketball player that the NBA will never know. You see, he’s got the Michael Jordan bball bug. Simon plays because he loves the game.
Last winter, as the snow began to melt, he’d regularly check the local outdoor court, desperate for the snow to be cleared. I even saw him bike away holding our snow shovel. He had decided to take matters into his own hands and rid the court of any remaining snow. Although he and his friends had found an indoor gym with a daily one-hour open court time, they wanted to get back to playing outside for as long as their legs would allow.
Last month we travelled to the west coast to visit family. On day two, Simon was missing basketball. Lo and behold, his uncle had a ball! As soon as he got the ball in his hands, we headed to the waterfront of Nanaimo, and Simon headed directly to the basketball court. He played for over an hour in less-than-ideal footwear — flip flops, he was wearing flip flops — but he was happy.
In Seattle, the focus was on shopping for new basketball shoes. And he found the perfect pair, thanks to an attentive sales associate. Simon even tested them out in the store by playing some bball with him!
Back in the lower mainland of British Columbia, his goal was to secure a vintage jersey at a Langley antique shop. No luck, but he hopped online and found a great one from the new Big 3 league.(2)
Simon has just begun his final year of high school, and I’m confident that he’ll continue playing basketball into adulthood. You see, he plays for himself, and that motivation will help him keep it as a priority, as life piles on more responsibility. Whether you’re starting post-secondary education or you’re farther along in life, fitness and physical activity often slide off the plate when there are competing priorities.(3)
Even the best of intentions cannot guarantee exercise will happen. That’s why so many fitness professionals, myself included, tell people to find something they enjoy. If you love your workout, you’re more likely to want to do it and actually make time for it. Just look at how much fun Simon has when he’s got a basketball in his hands:
It's finally August, and the dog days of summer are living up to their moniker. Since the soft launch of my new book almost two months ago, I've been working on an official book launch in Ottawa. Don't worry, you won't miss it whilst at the cottage. Although I'm announcing it today, the launch is not happening until September. The 19th, to be exact. That's a Wednesday - middle of the week, so you'll definitely be in town.
Are you ready to hear the location? I'll give you a hint first with this image:
Function Physiotherapy will be hosting the official book launch of Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day. Join us on Wednesday, September 19th, between 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm, for the launch. Light refreshments will be served. There will be a limited supply of books for sale at the launch, and I'll be signing copies. If you've already bought a copy and would like it signed, bring it with you!
See you in September!!
I am so proud of my book and want to share it with everyone. The book’s message is a simple one: Exercise, physical activity, practical fitness, movement. Call it what you will, just make sure you do it every day. Physical activity doesn’t need to be costly, complicated, or time-consuming. But it does need to happen every single day. No special clothing, fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships are required. Just a commitment to get off your butt and move more.
To that end, I’m thrilled with the early response I’ve received. There have been fantastic reviews for the book, both online and in person. It’s nice to run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and be told your book is fantastic and helping them so much. That happened to me one Saturday afternoon, as I walked to the library. And here are some written reviews I’ve received:
Angela: "I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! I'm buying 7 more copies for presents for some of my friends. The red, white and black cover is very eye catching and dynamic and invites you to pick the book up. The style is fresh and positive. I love the frequent invitations to move my beautiful body. This book is a gentle reminder to keep moving and stay as healthy as possible. It suggests small changes that have a huge impact on our health: Age without Pain!"
Amazon Customer: "Great book on how to get more movement in your day, whether you are actively working out every day and if you are sedentary, or think you move a lot. You will be surprised. It's an easy read and informative, backed by credible references and written by a very knowledgeable author. This book needs to be read by everyone! I workout 5 days a week for an hour; I was amazed at how much I sit or stand. If you are someone e that needs inspiration to get more movement in your day, Amanda can certainly help you and you are going to feel better. Promise!"
Lydia: "This book is amazing! Amanda makes it so easy to add more movement to your day. I love the concept on nudges and creating new habits to make it more sustainable and long-lasting."
Kindle Edition Reader: "A great little gem! Filled with practical ideas of how you can add more movement to your day. I especially like the suggestion of a health SMOK break at work: Sedentary & Movement Optional Kills Early. The author point out how it's socially acceptable for smokers to take a break, yet it's not as socially acceptable to take a movement break at work. As a personal trainer, I'm always trying to encourage my clients to move more outside of their traditional exercise time. I'd totally recommend this book if you're need more ideas on how to do this, whether for yourself or your clients.”
I’ve published a few videos of the book’s content, including the introduction and the table of contents.
And I’ve had some wonderful individuals reach out to share details of my book with their audiences. This exposure has included podcasts, radio interviews, blog posts, and newsletter features. You can visit my media pages check back often to see the others!
Next on my list are workshops, presentations, and book signings. I have a few of those scheduled later this month. Please visit my events page to see the ones that are open to the public. And do let me know if you’d like a live event scheduled at your location.
Well, in addition to promoting my book, I’m still running my fitness business. So that means it’s time to get back to work on personal training and group and private Essentrics classes.
I hope you’re enjoying your summer as much as I am! And remember, keep moving.
Move more, feel better. That’s the slogan I adopted when I created The More More Institute™ in 2016. Physical inactivity is causing a global health crisis, as we download more apps and purchase more labour-saving devices to make our lives “easier.” But is easier necessarily better? I don’t think so, and neither do most health and fitness professionals. For several years now, we have been sounding the alarm. Have you been listening?
Perhaps you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” Unfortunately, our busy lives have precluded many people from making the necessary changes to their daily lives. I'm just about to publish my first book, called "Move More, Your Life Depends On It: Practical Tips to Add More Movement to Your Day". With this book, I teach people how to add non-exercise activity to their busy days. Physical activity doesn't have to be complicated or cost a ton of money, but it does have to be part of your daily life if you want to prevent premature death.
How will this book help you? I’m glad you asked. With the guidance provided in this book, you can:
- Learn how to nudge yourself to be more active throughout the day, every day
- Improve your health by incorporating non-exercise activity into your busy workday, and
- Identify and overcome barriers to being more physically active.
The book is divided into three easy to follow sections: The Problem, The Solution, and The Action Plan. If you’re stuck and not sure what to do, this book will help you change your behaviour from "mostly sedentary" to "active mover.”
To reach more people, I chose to self-publish with Amazon. The paperback and e-book versions will be available for sale later this month. If you can buy books from Amazon in your country, you’ll be able to buy this book.
For those of you who live in the Ottawa area, I will be hosting a book launch in mid-September. Stay tuned for more details.
And remember: if you move more, you will feel better.
Many times, with stress, you don’t know you're over capacity. You're a strong, competent, capable person who has coped with many demands and endured difficult situations over the course of your life.
Then suddenly, you find yourself overwhelmed by the smallest thing. You say to yourself, “What the heck is the matter with me?” and blame yourself for breaking down.
The truth is: there’s nothing wrong with you.
"How can that be?" you wonder.
When it comes to stress, humans are like elevators. An elevator is designed to carry a certain maximum weight. At any one time, it may be able to carry more than it’s designed to, but if it carries that excessive amount consistently, it begins to break down. The engine starts to smoke. The cable starts to fray. But all this is taking place outside of your awareness. It’s outside the elevator car. You might notice a funny smell. Maybe the doors stick sometimes. Occasionally the ride might be less smooth than usual. But you don’t really think much of it. Then suddenly, you find yourself plummeting down the elevator shaft, wondering what’s happening.
Stress works the same way.
Stress activates what is known as the fight-freeze-flight response. Without cultivating an even flow between fight-freeze-flight and its opposite (known as rest-digest-tend-befriend) the effects of stress accumulate. Eventually you burn out. You feel like you’re in a kind of free-fall, with emotional, physical and cognitive symptoms out of control.
Humans are not designed to withstand ongoing stress without recovery time. At a certain point, you feel the effects.
This is completely normal.
It’s also good news.
Stress symptoms are like the check engine light on your car dashboard. They’re telling you it’s time to take a look at what’s happening, and address it, before you break down. If you’re experiencing stress symptoms, you might consider having a heart-to-heart with a trusted friend, your doctor, your clergy person or a mental health therapist.
With support, you can look under the hood, see what’s working, and do more of that. You can also see what isn’t working and decide what you want to do about it, so you can feel good and respond effectively when the crap hits the fan.
Three easy keys to reduce your stress
Under stress, your brain literally thinks like a rabbit facing a bear, and the fight-freeze-flight response is activated. But you’re not a rabbit and there’s no bear from which you can run. So what to do? You can think of stress reduction in terms of these three key principles: discharge, soothe and nourish.
Discharge: like the bunny, your body-mind has been mobilized to run, and this “running” energy needs to be discharged. Stressful emotions also build up from being in the alarm state, and they need to be discharged.
Soothe: Stress-inducing phenomena are everywhere (including in your thoughts), so your body-mind is constantly barraged by alarm messages. To de-activate the alarm state, the body-mind needs to be soothed.
Nourish: The body-mind’s constantly-on stress reaction has depleted it. It has used all its resources to keep sounding the alarm and mobilizing itself to respond, so the nervous system, and your mind, need to be nourished.
Movement can help
Did you know that sitting still for long periods of time exacerbates the freeze response? This is like when a rabbit sees the bear and freezes. It’s immobile because it’s afraid, and its body-mind is flooded with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.
When humans stay immobile (like sitting at a desk all day), the brain thinks like the rabbit in freeze response, and the body gets stuck in a stress loop. This is where Amanda’s work comes in. Small “movement snacks” (as opposed to intense workouts) remind the body-mind that it isn’t stuck, and interrupts the stress cycle, allowing the body-mind to relax and recover.
For more information and tips for transforming stress and trauma, sign up for Shulamit’s newsletter here: https://www.shula.ca/newsletter/
Some Signs of Stress
Emotional: short fuse; anxious feelings; a sense of being alone; feeling bad about yourself
Physical: low energy; headaches; muscle tension and aches; digestive problems; difficulty sleeping; loss of sexual desire/ability; frequent colds or infections
Cognitive: worrying; racing thoughts; problems with concentration or focus; negative thinking; forgetfulness; disorganization
About the Author:
Shulamit Ber Levtov, MA, RSW, RYT is a social worker and Yoga teacher who works with business women and busy women to transform the effects of stress and trauma so they can feel good about themselves *and* respond effectively when the crap hits the fan. She is also the founder and director of Kemptville's holistic stress and trauma clinic, Compassionate Support for Stressful Times. In her 18+ years as a mental health and personal growth professional, Shulamit has logged thousands of hours helping hundreds of women and men recover from the effects of stress and trauma in a variety of agency, corporate and government settings. She also speaks and teaches locally, internationally and online.
Exercise, physical activity, movement: whatever you call it, your body needs it - every single day of your life. Exercise makes you feel better, both physically and mentally. It can prevent injury, disease and premature death. Sometimes, though, exercise isn’t enough. Like if you break a toe. In cases where help is needed, I’ve got a few recommendations for you in the Glebe, Old Ottawa East, Old Ottawa South area.
Earlier this month, I sat and stared at my laptop for the better part of a Sunday. You see, I needed to write my latest blog post, and I couldn’t. I was drawing a blank.
This was more than writer’s block. I typically have at least 5 ideas percolating in the back of my brain, ready to take centre stage for a monthly blog post. And when I sit down to write, the words and ideas flow.
But not this time. This time, I felt like my fountain of creativity had run dry. I felt “beyond burnt out”. And that made the situation worse. What if I had tapped all that was available? Was that the end of my business?
Honestly, I felt heartsick. And deflated. Finally, I put my computer aside and tried to distract my overactive brain.
A few days later, and still no change in my demeanour. I made a radical decision to take a break from social media for a brief spell - both professionally and personally.
I told people I was logging off for a break, and gave them my website and email info, in case they needed to contact me.
And then I turned off all notifications for Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and Twitter. I thought I’d experience a moment of withdrawal; but it never came. I actually felt liberated.
A few wonderful souls emailed me to say they hoped everything was okay. [No need to name them, they know who they are. And their support is forever appreciated.]
For 4 days, I detoxed from the online world. I tried to forget about my failed blog post. But I stewed. Was this the end of my business? Could I continue if I felt this way? You see, my heart felt simultaneously heavy and hollow. "Beyond burnt out" is the only way I can describe it.
Then one morning, an idea popped into my head: write a book. Write a book?! I can’t write a book. The notion germinated all day long, and by the end of the day it became: I CAN write a book!
But I kept it to myself. Until the next day, when I told my husband. His response, “That’s a good idea.” Then I told my teenage kids. Their response, “Cool.” And then I told a few close friends. Everyone was excited for me. No one said I couldn’t do it. So I’m going for it. And a few days later, my daughter started talking about my book launch party. I suggested we put a pin in that until I had a draft completed.
Although the process of writing a book can seem daunting, it’s also thrilling. I’ve been researching how to self-publish; I’ve been working on my outline; I’ve been reaching out to people to be interviewed for the book. And I feel reenergized.
The heavy/hollow feeling has disappeared. My creative juices are once again flowing. And I’m excited.
You’re probably wondering, “What’s the book about?” Great question! The working title is “Get off your butt! Your life depends on it”. I’ll be taking much of the content I created for The Move More Institute™ and turning it into book form.
And now, I need to get back to writing…
Balance. What does it mean to you? There are many definitions for this seemingly simple word. Let’s address a few of them here. And I'll share with you how I interpret balance in my life.
How do you define balance in your life? Do you have other ways of balancing?
Move more, feel better. That’s the slogan I chose for The Move More Institute™.
Just get up and move - that’s all I’m asking. As soon as you do, your body and brain will feel better.
And they’ll start to crave the movement. Trust me, I know.
Let me explain…
It’s been about 8 years since I switched gears professionally and jumped into the world of fitness. I’ve always been in the business of helping people:
You get the idea. I deal with humans - helping them improve their lives.
Well, about 4 years ago, I decided I needed to teach more Essentrics® classes in Ottawa. You know, get the word out, help people feel better in their bodies.
Ottawans are fortunate in that there are MANY fitness options in the city. And many fitness centres. So much so, that most people want fitness-on-demand: the class they want, at a time that suits them, near their home or office.
You get the idea.
I rose to the challenge and tried to start up as many Essentrics classes in as many locations that would have me. Starting up a class takes time. And a lot of computer time as well:
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I got to the point where I was teaching 15 weekly classes in 8 locations. And spending A LOT of time on my computer in the interim. I hurt my shoulder and entire right side of my torso from too much “point and click”.
It made me realize how damaging it can be to sit at your computer too much. I was incredibly fit - 15 classes a week! - and yet I still go injured. At my computer.
I started to look into the research on physical inactivity and office workers. And I was astounded at what I discovered.*
More than bootcamps and gym memberships, people needed real help to relearn how to use their bodies in normal, everyday ways.
So, I went back to my earlier roots in health promotion research and psychology to work on a solution. Out of that work, The Move More Institute was born.
On the continuum of physical activity, I’m targeting the basics.
Your life is busy; you’ve got lots of people counting on you every single day. The thought of having to add one more location change - i.e., one hour at the gym, 3 times a week on your own, or once a week with a personal trainer - is making your head spin.
That’s why The Move More Institute™ comes to you: short segments delivered online to your home or office, when it works for you. And you don’t need to commit to a long-term training schedule. My goal is short-term coaching for long-term results.
Think about it: A 1-hour weekly personal training session accounts for less than 1% of your waking hours. I want you to get active and stay active every day of your life. If we only rely on that “less than 1%” block of time to change your behaviour, how successful do you think you’ll be? (Psst: rhetorical question alert)
The Move More Institute™ can’t make your life less busy, but it can make your life better by teaching you how to add natural movement to your busy life. What does “natural movement” mean, exactly? It’s a very literal term - it’s not deadlifts or pistol squats, glute bridges or planks. It’s about non-exercise activity to fuel your body and make you feel better.
And I’m living proof that it works. I teach group fitness classes and deliver personal training sessions in my professional life. In my personal life, I apply behaviour change models - the habit loop and nudge theory - to be more active during the day:
I could go on, but it’s time for me to take a break from my computer. It’s time for me to move more.
*You can refer to earlier blog posts for more information.
Amanda Sterczyk is a Certified Personal Trainer (ACSM), an Exercise is Medicine Canada (EIMC) Fitness Professional, and a Certified Essentrics® Instructor. She offers in-home personal training in central Ottawa. Amanda specializes in helping older adults maintain and increase strength, flexibility, and mobility. No fitness goal is too small, in her opinion.