Archive for ageing and exercise

Stop Neck and Back Pain

What is Going On?

Things were much simpler when we were younger–do you know what I mean.  Now days we are looking for the cure of our ailments and troubles of the world.  Well stop right now and open a different book or URL than what you are reading at this moment.

What we can do here?   We can look beyond what we are noticing as far as the pain.  Pain in a chronic area of the neck and/or back is poor prognosticator of the problems location.  Always consider the adjacent body areas in figuring out what to address in correcting and alleviating this common problem.

Basic Anatomy

Our spine is an interesting and integrated structure composed of three primary curves.  Most people who have neck (cervical) pain or lower back (lumbar) pain do not think of the thoracic spine.  This thoracic spine is conveniently “surrounded” by the neck and lower back spine.  This arrangement of the anatomy is a key in addressing these pains.

Remember the spine operates as an integrated structure.  This means that each area is functionally related to the others.  You must not just think that the anatomical structure as the cause of the pain–follow the connections.

Advice for Stopping Chronic Neck and Lower Back Pain

Let’s be practical here.  First you should have had a thorough medical and movement assessment.  This means that if you are having chronic pain (longer than 3 months) you should get medically cleared by your doctor.  Next it would be great to have a qualified Physical Therapist or movement expert screen and assess how your structure is moving and working.

Often in my practice I find that the thoracic area is really neglected.  It becomes stiff and a poor transmitter of spinal forces.  The areas of the cervical and lumbar are performing way too much work (many times this is in one or two directions though).  Remember the place that is complaining is certainly not the only place that should be looked at.  A myopic view of pain often distorts the larger view of functional relationships of important adjacent regions.

Exercise Approach

One simple set of exercise you can immediately start is shown below.  Here you are using sidelying to work on moving and mobilizing the thoracic spine in a variety of directions.  During these movements you are learning much more than might be evident.  A primary direction of movement is in rotation or twisting.  During this twisting of the chest you are learning to stabilize the lumbar area.  Over time you will get a very good sense of how much we over rotate the thoraco-lumbar to lumbar area.  Therefore you can appreciate how under used the thoracic are becomes.

Also you can use a foam roller very nicely for this thoracic area.  The below video emphasizes thoracic extension.  There are many variations.  One not shown is just to use the roller to massage the back muscles here.  Most people find it very useful.



There You Have It

Try these ideas for a chronic problem with your neck or lower back.  Go slowly as with anything different or new.  Don’t try to perform the exercise.  Rather use these as movements to explore your own body and what you are noticing.  Your job here (should you accept this “Mission”) is to make a change by feeling something you haven’t felt before.  This work should be in the direction of making you more comfortable and more freely moving.  So use these movements as guidelines and not just a prescription of “exactly” what to do.  That being said, please try it out this way for several weeks before you become too creative.

Remember to work with your breath once you have the basic movements.  Stay in this sidelying position for awhile–you will be greatly benefited by putting in 15-30 minutes.  These longer times really benefit from proper diaphragmatic breathing–this type of breath is not the belly expansion but the sides and all around the lower rib cage.  There is an extremely important relationship with the breathing and the thoracic spine.  It is a much more detailed topic than will be covered here.  It is one of the keys to unlocking chronic pain.


Train and practice daily.  Go and try out these movements.  Write to me what you have learned.

Fitness is a Lie

The Great Lie

  • Get fit and loose fat
  • Fitness improves your health
  • Increase your longevity with exercise

Give Me a Break

We put our hopes and dreams into ideas.  Fitness can become just an idea.  These supposed lies of fitness could be true as well as not.  There are parts to each of the above that are true and other parts that are misconstrued.  Let’s take a break from whether it is true.  The discussion is specious.  Does this mean we shouldn’t strive to be fit.  Again there is this aspect of talking about it vs getting it done.   The key at this moment is “go” not talk about it.  (now before you leave for your workout…)

Next Step

Best thing to do is stop discussing this idea and start practicing it.  There is a ton of information out there on different programs to help you achieve your goals in becoming better at moving.  This is what fitness does.  It helps you move better.

Everything in our physiology is movement related.  We send signals of back and forth within our body, both chemical, electrical and mechanical.  We push and pull air and fluids throughout our vessels and channels.  We move things inside and outside.  Our thoughts and emotions move into and out of our awareness.  We are a constant complex marvel of an internal and external ballet of choreographed movements.

All this internal movement is summoned up in our expression and dance of movement with our outside ecology.  These exercises we do and the functions we perform in our daily lives and the kinds of relationships we have or don’t have are the final expressions of our symphony of movements.

Fitness Guidelines

  1. Start a regular practice involving large body movements.
    1. Spinal movements
    2. Shoulder girdle movements including the whole shoulder complex
    3. Hip girdle movements including the lower extremities
  2. Include a systematic variety of different types of movements
    1. Endurance both aerobic and anaerobic forms
    2. Stability and strength
    3. Flexible and fluid
    4. Power
    5. Agility and balance
    6. Coordination and motor control
    7. Skill and FUN aspects
  3. Yoga
    1. Develop a philosophy of life
    2. Live both the life of the inner worlds WITH the life of the outer worlds
    3. Be truly happy and know yourself
    4. Skill set of practices
      1. Meditation and concentration practices
      2. Breath training
      3. Internal dialogue
  4. Diet and nutrition
    1. Develop regular eating habits
    2. Proper food selection and supplementation
    3. Proper elimination
  5. Sleep
    1. Regular
    2. Sufficient amount
  6. Sex
    1. Healthy expression
    2. Significant indicator of hormonal balance
  7. Etc
    1. In case I left out anything, please add here

Now What

Do some of you remember Jim Fixx.  Back in 1984, he was on the popular front of running and getting fit.  He had a 2 pack/day cigarette habit and was out of shape.  He stopped smoking, ate better and took up running.  He was the iconic symbol of a fit man when suddenly he died of a heart attack while jogging.  I remember this incident well.  I had bought his book and thought what a great thing for fitness that he was doing.   After his death there was a whip lash effect on this fitness craze of the day.  Some of course used this sad story to incorrectly label the efforts of fitness.

Being fit does not protect you from disease or life.  It does allow you to move better through life, no matter what you have to deal with.  The key again is movement.  Fitness isn’t something that you can hold in your hand as this or that.  But if you have done your practices regularly, then you will be able to live above most that do not.

We all will have some of today’s diseases for a variety of reasons.  Some of us will be heavier.  Some us will be skinnier.  Etc.  Being able to move our minds and bodies well will allow recovery and return to our lives with greater ease.

Look closely at what you want in your life.  Develop a practice to reach those goals.

What you can train, you can attain!

If you are involved in training, congratulations!  Consider reviewing your program.  Look at the above guidelines.  Which areas are you doing well in.  Are there areas that you leave out?  Maybe you don’t even consider them.  It would be another article to speak more directly about using some of these guidelines that may be under utilized (or mis-used) by some in the fitness arena.  Leave a comment about this topic.

If you haven’t started training regularly, then re-evaluate where you are in relation to your goals.  Maybe get some goals and/or redefine them.  Start with a simple plan and then take action on it.

Expect to train and practice for a long time.   Many fitness gurus and research speak of short term training programs.  There is value to including short term effects.   The real value in practice and training is over the long term.  It is always surprising to me how much change happens from year to year.  Most are familiar with the change of degradation from year to year.  The changes I find that are most sustainable and profound actually take place over many, many years.

Now for some, a longer view is a kin to a prison sentence, at least emotionally.  OK, that isn’t uncommon.  It is just unproductive.  This evaluation of the value of long term training actually allows for all of us to attain whatever it is that we are training.  This statement kind of reminds me of a money back guarantee.

Just don’t be planting carrot seeds and expecting apple blossoms.  I’m not kidding.  Many people say this type of training just doesn’t work.  Often these critics do not even participate.  They are the arm chair quarterbacks or the box seat critics.  You have to be moving and doing (before you re-hang around being).

But again the main point is that what ever we do, what ever we eat, what ever we think/feel becomes what we are.  If we have a particular result, it is due to all that we have done or not done that leads up to this result.  Again this can become a challenge to survive/manage/overcome or an obstacle that seems insurmountable.

Develop the fitness of the mind and body.  Engage fully in life.  Practice!

Best of the best in your endeavors–peter

Myth of Maximum Heart Rate


What should my target heart rate be for safe exercise now that I’m reaching into my 60’s? or now that I’m ….?

Answer Part 1

There has been a consensus from people in medicine and in the various fields of exercise training that your maximum heart is determined by the following formula:

220 minus your age =’s Maximum Heart Rate

Then you take a percentage of that to arrive at your target heart rate for training.  Let’s first look at this formula stated above.


This formula has been too casually utilized.  It has been promulgated as being scientific and over time has become the erroneous guideline for many in determining individual training levels.

It was founded in 1970 by Dr William Haskell.  There is a very good article in the New York Times that challenges this myth of maximum heart rate.  Below are excerpts from it:

The common formula was devised in 1970 by Dr. William Haskell, then a young physician in the federal Public Health Service and his mentor, Dr. Samuel Fox, who led the service’s program on heart disease. They were trying to determine how strenuously heart disease patients could exercise…

The subjects were never meant to be a representative sample of the population, said Dr. Haskell, who is now a professor of medicine at Stanford. Most were under 55 and some were smokers or had heart disease…

…At that point, Dr. Fox suggested a formula: maximum heart rate equals 220 minus age.

But the formula quickly entered the medical literature. Even though it was almost always presented as an average maximum rate, the absolute numbers took on an air of received wisdom in part, medical scientists said, because the time was right.

Answer Part 2

The American College of Cardiologists and the American College of Sports Medicine have come out with different guidelines.  I have seen that the American Heart Association used in the past the old formula.  I don’t know if they are still recommending this 220 minus age, equals your maximum heart rate.

Many have used the Karvonen Formula–See this link for an easy and quick calculation (and calculator)

Heart rate = ((Max HR-Resting HR)*%X/100)+Resting HR. (where %X =%MAX)

There is a great summary on a Wiki page here.  It provides more information than many would want.  It has other measurements and of course you can find the cited references.  Nice job.

So where does that leave us.

Answer Part 3

OK, whenever there are at least three answers proposed, be careful.  That means here, be careful!  I think that we don’t have a simple answer.  Also, we just don’t really know.  So in light of doing a treadmill test or similar at a human performance testing laboratory–what do we do?

We could use our common sense (or uncommon sense, as the case may be).  Take measure of who is asking.  What kind of condition are they in, any medical concerns–use a doctor to rule out medical problems.  What is their exercise history both recent and past composed of. Etc.

I personally like the Karvonen Formula or one of the other similar ones (they seem to differ in the range of standard deviations allowed).  In addition, I also like the Scale of Perceived Exertion.  This scale has shown good reliability with different groups of people–but it has doubt for some populations (caveat emptor).  Many people have derived their own modified Borg Scale.  Different groups have assigned different numbers meaning different levels of exertion.  (here and here for example)  Most importantly find your own subjective report that you can use consistently to gauge your work effort.  Be smart and be aware always.  Don’t use scales of any kind without retesting.

This retesting is important.  By retesting I mean how do you feel after exercising at your level of exertion.  How long does it take for you to recover–both in immediate heart rate (and breathing rate) and in the following days.  How you are sleeping and waking are always good barometers to pay attention to in determining how stressed you have become or not.  Also consider your mood swings and general level of energy.  This evaluation is always seen in our relationships with both are family/friends and in difficult situations especially.


Training is never done in isolation to how ones heart rate only is responding.  One needs to pay attention.  This attention would benefit by having a check list (hmmm another article someday)

Hopefully some of you will read this article and add what you have found to be important in determining your level of work.  Add your comments below.

Good training–may our hearts expand and receive the benefits of training beyond the base physiological parameters of regular exercise prescription.



Greatest Therapy Ever


Do you know the greatest therapy for a movement problem.  Practically if we are walking and talking, over time we will all experience life’s aches and pains.  This problem could be based on a recent trauma or just accumulated over our natural course of living the “way” we do.  So what do we do?

We often see someone who is an expert or helped someone we know.  Maybe we first see someone in a medical field or sports/rehabilitation area.  Let’s say we have developed a chronic neck complaint.  It comes and goes somedays.  It is aggravated by turning our head to look behind.  Our local MD told us to take some Asprin and get some exercise.  Anyway we aren’t getting any younger and this pain in the neck (we are told) is to be expected.

OK–now if this sounds familiar or even possible–we still would like to know what is the best thing to do.  What is the greatest therapy that could relieve this problem?  There are certainly lots of advertisements and no lack of recent claims for guaranteed relief.  Over time we have seen so many different types of therapy for similar problems.  The interesting observation is that some of them do work and many of them don’t.  It seems like we have ranged in our search from prayer to medication.  We have used tried body works of many kinds.  There are have been a variety of energy medicine approaches.  Proper exercise and a variety of modalities have their adherents.


Paying attention is key in anyone using some of the above mentioned methods (body work, energy medicine, exercise, modalities).

  • First do not seek the answer to what to do (Should I get Chiropractic or Physical Therapy treatment for my chronic stiff neck)
  • Start asking questions which lead you to first paying attention (What makes this problem worse and better?)
  • Compare moving in one direction to the opposite.  Really look at and feel how you move as well as how it feels.  Don’t just focus on the pain.

Next Step

First realize that the above observation outline is way to brief to properly address all the inquiry that is needed.  It is just a reminder that in finding what therapy to select, you start with observing yourself first.  Do not blindly follow an advertisement or blindly follow some anecdotal recommendation on who to see.  Let’s say you want to get going and get some relief or help.

The Greatest Therapy Ever Part 1

In my over 30 years of experience as a Physical Therapist and Yoga Teacher, I haven’t found it.  Wait, don’t leave just yet.  My point here is that I have seen so many different approaches come and go.  Many of them are still around as the time frame of even 50 years is relatively short.  It’s like the above waterfall picture–much has come and gone in this world of therapy.  (mainly gone in popularity of the ever changing present).


When I was a younger in the 50’s-early 60’s, if you had a sore neck you just continued along your way.  If it got bad for some of the older folks, they saw a medical doctor, who usually advised drugs and surgeries (many of which we don’t do anymore–we do new and improved ones now days).  A few saw a Chiropractor, often for a lengthy amount of time.  Physical Therapy was often palliative using modalities (heat, cold, ultrasound and cookbook exercises).  Some people did massage but not for these kind of pain problems (mainly a rub down after a workout at one of the athletic clubs).

I did not hear about energy medicine until that later 60’s and 70’s when therapeutic touch and acupuncture started to be known to me.  Later in the 70’s and 80’s Yoga and Osteopathic Manual Medicine came into view.  I trained to become a Physical Therapist in the late 70’s and started teaching Yoga in the 80’s.

Since then I have trained in many disciplines and continue to participate in continuing education in fields of health and fitness and yoga.

The Greatest Therapy Ever Part 2

This topic is the wrong topic for looking for help with pain and movement problems.

The Greatest Therapy or the Best Exercise or the Perfect Posture, etc is only a guide to begin.

Look to the Way in which these methods are used.  It is in the details of how a practitioner implements these helpful therapies.  It is in the details of how we practice these therapies or methods.

Note the variety of the therapies or methods used today.  There are certainly some popular ones.  As I have said before, they do tend to come and go.  Some of them have been around for longer though.

  • Look at all of them from this stand point of asking questions.
  • Do they provide more questions for you to answer, or do they provide only a cook book approach (the latter can be useful in acute problems)
  • Learning how to improve something that has been a problem for a long period of time doesn’t happen in a short period of time
  • Enter into a training program where you are being evaluated on a regular basis.  (this evaluation includes your own)
  • Practice under supervision.  Get regular feedback.  It is invaluable

There are many helpful approaches.  The approaches under the guide of a skillful eye is what is most productive in the relief of the problem.  If the underlying problem is eliminated or eased the accompanying symptom must improve.


  1. Identify what you want different
  2. Ask many questions about it
  3. Participate in training classes and/or individual sessions with people who can provide skillful feedback
  4. Continuously and regularly re-evaluate and adjust your practice and therapies
  5. Get results!  If not review the above, add/delete until progress continues.  Learn and adapt.
  6. That driving force of progressing and re-balancing in all of us will provide the Greatest Therapy.  Just remove the obstacles in the way.


If I can be of any assistance in your practices, please do not hesitate to call or stop by for a class or session.  Contact me here.

Progressive Resistance Exercise


Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side.

With a 5-lb potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them there as long as you can. Try to reach a full minute, and then relax.

Each day you’ll find that you can hold this position for just a bit longer. After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-lb potato bags.

Then try 50-lb potato bags and then eventually try to get to where you can lift a 100-lb potato bag in each hand and hold your arms straight for more than a full minute. (I’m at this level.)

After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag

Training into your later years

61 year old woman breaking world records in Olympic Lifts

You have to read some of these real amazing people’s web sites–like Dave and Laree Draper

Check out their page on this amazing woman (and amazing trainer–Glenn Pendlay) who just started learning Olympic lifts at 55 yo

Working towards being healthy, without injury and having a proper perspective of training goes a long way, it seems

(Maybe there is a place for yoga and it’s sister science Ayurveda.)