Fitness – February 2013


Winter health and exercise

The days are noticeably getting longer and soon the temperatures will start to rise as we progress towards the first day of spring. But for right now, cabin fever effects even the most positive of us.

Exercise has been linked to many positive outcomes, but you may not know that it can be a powerful weapon against some of the health issues that come up in the winter.  Read on if your motivation for exercise is as low as the temperatures and you are looking for reasons to help you stick to your workout routine.

Breathing as a natural antihistamine and immune system builder.

There are many great reasons for doing yoga, but even people who practice yoga may be unfamiliar with one of the powerful techniques within yoga that can help decongest your sinuses when suffering from colds and sinus infections. Kapalbhati is a yoga pranayama or breathing technique that is comprised of a series of short explosive exhales originating from the belly. This breathing practice has been said to purify the nasal passages and lungs and is a powerful aid in relief from congestion. One reason why is because deep rhythmic breathing has been found to produce natural antihistamines which will temporarily reduce the symptoms of stuffy itchy sinus cavities.

Just like over-the-counter antihistamines, this breathing practice is not a cure for the cold virus or other reasons for sinus inflammation; however, it does offer temporary relief that can last for minutes to hours and doesn’t involve putting pharmaceutical products into your system.

In addition to yoga breathing practices, light to moderate cardiovascular exercises such as indoor bike riding, walking or jogging on a treadmill, elliptical and other cardio machines are all other options that produce deep belly breathing during performance.  As long as you stay in the moderate intensity level, these activities can also be natural antihistamine-releasing choices. 

An added benefit to cardiovascular exercise is that when performed regularly and not excessively, it is a powerful immune system builder.  And even better than producing natural antihistamines is  growing a strong immune system to win the battle against colds and sinus infections.

Twisting and GI upset

During the winter months we are indoors more than out and often turn to foods that give us pleasure, but are not the friendliest on our digestive systems.  This results in symptoms ranging from irritable bowel, chronic constipation to excessive gas and reflux. Twisting exercises are a powerful, easy way to stimulate sluggish bowels and decrease gassiness.

Yoga poses such as forward folds, seated twists and twists in general all work to help stimulate the organs of digestion. By gently compressing the organs, these positions temporarily reduce blood flow to them.  When the pose is released, blood rushes back into the organs thereby producing a flushing and stimulating effect that helps aid digestion and alleviate gassiness.  Specific poses include marichayasana (seated twists), paschimottasana (seated forward fold) and janu sirsasana (seated forward bend with one leg straight and one knee bent).

But it is not just yoga twists that can help the GI tract; any movement pattern that involves rotation from the torso can serve a similar purpose.  Twisting crunches and lateral rotation movements that are performed as part of a strength routine and kettle bell exercises involving twisting can also serve a similar purpose.

Strength training for memory enhancement and improved cognitive capacity
Doesn’t it seem as if it is more difficult to get your brain to function correctly during the winter?  Are you like me and find that when it is dark and cold, you can’t seem to retrieve words from your head and performing mental tasks that seem easy in the summer are all but impossible in the winter?  Even if this doesn’t happen to you, improved cognitive function and memory is something that most of us would like.

Good news!  In a recently released study by the University of British Columbia, strength training was found to be superior to just walking in producing improved cognitive capacity.  The researchers theorize that by performing strength workouts, your brain has to exercise by tracking sets and reps, giving it as much of a workout as your body.

But it is not just strength training that benefits the brain; there is a growing body of research that shows that moderate cardiovascular exercises such as jogging, aggressive walking, snow shoeing, etc. all increase levels of oxygen and blood flow to the brain.   Enhanced cognitive capacity and better memory are positive brain effects from this type of exercise because tiny blood vessels are formed from the increased flow thereby providing more access for nutrients and oxygen.

Judy Torel is a USAT coach, personal trainer, nutrition consultant and psychotherapist. Her office is Judy Torel’s Coaching and Training Studio at 116 Everett Road, Albany. She can be reached at 469.0815 or


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