Six reasons climbing is a great way to maintain health and wellness
Climbing first caught my eye about a year ago when I started college and discovered my university has a free indoor climbing gym for students. I started climbing and quickly learned to love it! It’s a sport that has many mental and physical benefits that promote a healthy lifestyle.
Climbing builds mental strength
Mentally, climbing has helped me grow as a person because it’s taught me to trust my body and my push myself out of my comfort zone as I climb harder or more technical routes. It teaches you to develop a strong mindset because you need to be able to fall on the same route repeatedly but tell yourself “this time I’ll get it” each time you try again.
It’s competitive with yourself, not with other people
A problem I’ve found with team sports is people would be more focused on beating an opponent and being the best rather than having fun and developing their skills. When I became involved with the rock climbing community, I discovered a more inward focus. Everyone is concerned with bettering themselves and improving personally rather than beating anyone else. As everyone has a different style to their climbing and their own set of strengths and weaknesses, the only climber you can truly compare yourself to is the climber you were yesterday.
It’s a lot of problem solving
When climbing, there are lots of different ways to tackle the various challenges you’re presented with. For example, a shorter person might not be able to reach climbing holds as well as someone who’s taller. At the same time, if you’re small you don’t require as much strength to keep yourself on the wall. Everyone uses their own skill set and must figure out how to solve problems and tackle hard routes in ways that fit their climbing style. And every route you climb is different, so you’ll get a lot of mental exercise along with physical.
Climbing creates a strong community
Because rock climbing isn’t a very competitive sport, the community is very supportive and welcoming. It’s a great environment for socializing and making friends. Climbers are happy to give you advice on how to complete a route, talk about different places you’ve both climbed, share training tips and even teach different styles of climbing.
All skill levels welcome
Both indoor and outdoor climbing offer a variety of challenges for all skill levels. This can range anywhere from climbing a ladder, to gripping tiny holds or even jumping 4 feet to reach the next move. Because of the variety of challenge options, it’s easy to get started and possible to climb with people with more developed skills.
Can be done alone or with a group
With team sports like football; baseball; basketball or soccer, you need a big group of people to have a game. Depending on the type of climbing you do, you can go by yourself, with just one other person or with a big group of friends to solve problems and train together. The different types of climbing are bouldering, top rope and lead climbing. Bouldering is where you climb without ropes and only go about 10 feet off the ground (there are padded mats to land on if you fall). Bouldering can be done by yourself or with a group of people. Top rope climbing and lead climbing are done with ropes and require at least two people: one person acts as a weight as the other person climbs.
Low-cost Fitness Options
A regular exercise routine is a powerful tool in your diabetes management plan. Exercise can lower blood sugar, and helpful for losing/maintaining a healthy weight. Going to the gym or health club isn’t a great fit for everyone, though. They can be intimidating for one (especially if you’re just getting started), and the closest gym might still be too difficult to get to often enough to make it worthwhile. Then there’s cost. Memberships can be expensive, and some places charge extra for certain fitness classes. If you’re trying to save money, exercising at home may be a better fit.
But what about access to equipment like weights and exercise machines? If you have space you can purchase your own exercise machine or a set of weights, but again this might not be an option if saving money is a concern. If you do have a little budget for fitness equipment, a set of resistance bands (with a door anchor), jump ropes and a stability ball are versatile, low-cost choices. In reality you don’t need any equipment to exercise (a routine made of bodyweight exercises can be effective and challenging), or you can incorporate some items you probably already have at home into your routine.
Hand weights => Canned goods
Cans of soup are a good option for arm raises or other upper body exercises that use light hand weights. If you need more challenge you can use a milk jug filled with water. The more water you add, the heavier the weight.
Gliding Disks => Paper plates
Gliding discs are circular plastic discs used to slide hands or feet (depending on the activity) along the floor when doing body weight exercises like mountain climbers or lunges. A set of paper plates or a dish towel will work just as well at home.
Squat machine => Wall
Yes, even a blank wall can be used as a piece of fitness equipment! To do a wall squat, stand with your back against the wall and slide down until your thighs are parallel with the floor, moving your feet out so your knees are bent at 90 degrees. Hold. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to hold the squat longer.
Stair machine => Stairs
Another piece of fitness equipment you probably already have in your home or office. Skip the elevator and take the stairs whenever possible.
Post content reviewed by the Clubs at Charles River Park
My Story: Benefits of Working Out With Friends
By Jahnelle Bray
Population Health Coordinator
One of my old coworkers made a commitment to get up early every morning to go spinning. She always had so much energy during her day I thought I’ve got to try this! When a spinning studio opened across the street, I got a group of friends together and that’s what we did. That first class was tough and I had really mixed emotions when it was over. I was sweaty and sore, but also really energized. A little while later I introduced another friend to spinning and she LOVED it. She also suggested we go to a class every week. This was great for me because it has helped me build consistency with my workouts.
If you struggle with staying in shape or sticking with exercise, finding an exercise buddy is really helpful. When you’re by yourself, it’s easy to talk yourself out of exercising or just do the bare minimum. When you make plans with someone else, you’ve made a commitment to be there and do your best. You don’t want to feel like you’re letting them down.
Your exercise buddy can push you to keep going when your muscles start to hurt. If I start to feel like I’m ready to give up, I’ll look over and see how my friends are doing. Seeing them going for it when I’m flagging really motivates me to stick with it. Thinking about the class as a group effort also helps. Everyone is there for the same reason and we’re all going to get through this together. I don’t want to be the only person not doing anything, so I tell myself if they can do it, so can I!
It was great finding someone who loved spinning as much as I do and wanted to go regularly. We have a routine now where we text each other every week to decide what day we’ll go. It’s been about a month since we started doing this, and I’m much less sore than I was after that first time! I look forward to class. It’s a chance for me to disconnect and recharge my body and mind. If I miss a week, I don’t feel my best. Working out is a great accomplishment. If you don’t finish anything else in your day, at least you’ve done that.
Getting Active with Pokemon Go
By Chrisanne Sikora, Sr. Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program
By now you’ve probably heard of Pokémon GO, the Augmented Reality mobile game where players “catch” virtual creatures in the real world. Out of curiosity, I downloaded the app while I was on vacation. After about a week of playing around with the game I still don’t quite get many of the details about leveling up your Pokémon or challenging other players to competitions (yet). Finding and catching Pokémon, though? THAT I get and it ties in with what I find most appealing about the game: it encourages you to get up and get active.
The game uses your phone’s GPS to track your location and movements. As you move, your character in the game moves as well. Places where Pokémon will appear are marked on the map and when you get close, you “catch” them using the phone’s camera. While you may be able to find a couple in your home like I did, catching all 100+ different types of creatures (one of the goals of the game) means heading outside and exploring. The more you walk around, the more likely you are to find new and different types of Pokémon.
While you’re out catching Pokémon, you’ll also encounter “Pokéstops” where you can pick up useful items. These places usually match up with real life landmarks or interesting sites. The more of these sites you visit, the more items you’ll collect (and the more walking you’ll do). Eggs are one type of item you can find at these stops. To find out what’s inside your egg, all you have to do is walk. After a certain distance (the app tracks it for you), it will hatch. There may even be a Pokémon inside!
It’s a cute way to spend time with friends and family, or jazz up your regular routine if playing solo. I had the app open when I went walking the other day and found several Pokémon and Pokéstops along one of my regular walking routes. If you do decide to try it, make sure to pay attention to what’s around you and be respectful of other people’s property.
Summer Fitness Idea: Swimming
By Sara Evans, Aquatics Supervisor
The Clubs at Charles River Park
Swimming is a great, total body exercise for building strength in your muscles as well as your heart and lungs. Swimming is also a safe activity for anyone. Because you’re weightless in the water, there’s less wear on your joints and you don’t need to worry about tripping or losing feeling in your feet. Unless your healthcare provider says no, there’s no reason not to try swimming.
Swimming uses every muscle in your body, but especially your core. A strong core is needed to keep your head above water, and will help improve your posture in other activities like running or walking. Since the whole body is used to pull you through the water, swimming is a great time saver workout. Just 30 minutes in the pool is about the same as at 45-minute run on the treadmill. You can also adjust how hard you work by making small changes to your hand positions. For instance, keeping your hands flat adds resistance and challenge.
If you’re new to swimming, the first steps are learning to float and developing good breath control in the water. Most of all you’ll need to have confidence about swimming in the deep end. The best way to build confidence is through practice. I recommend beginners start with 15 minutes twice a week at either the beginning (warm up) or end (cool down) of your workout. Remember, swimming is much different than running so it’s best to take it easy to start so you don’t wear yourself out. As you get stronger, you can increase how long and how often you swim. Eventually you’ll be able to swim every day of the week if you want! Swimming is a life-long activity and there’s no risk of injury from overuse.
One last thought: There’s no one “right” way to swim. You’ll soon develop a style that works for you. Be comfortable with your stroke, even if it’s different from someone else’s. The best fit for you is whatever gets you to the other end of the pool and back.
Use the Force (for Fitness)
By Chrisanne Sikora, Sr. Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program
Chances are “okay grab your lightsaber, get ready to move” is not something you’d expect to hear in a group fitness class. Gyms and health clubs often run special promotions after the holidays when many people begin setting up new fitness routines. Last week when I read an article about one of the nearby gyms offering a free class inspired by the new Star Wars movie, I thought it sounded a little silly but also like it could be a lot of fun. I figured why not? and called to sign up.
After we’d picked out a lightsaber and chosen our spots the instructor, Cassie, explained the class was designed around the idea of circuit training. We’d learn a sequence (or “circuit”) of about four exercises that we would do for a minute each. After we’d done each sequence three times, we’d start over with a new sequence. Cassie showed us the first sequence while a dance remix of the Star Wars theme played over the speakers, and we were off.
I couldn’t help but giggle along with the woman next to me as we swung our lightsabers side to side while doing lunges. Aside from thin disks used to slide our feet along the floor (and of course a toy lightsaber), there was no equipment used in the class. Most of the exercises were versions of basic moves like squats and push-ups that use bodyweight as resistance. Even so, the class was more challenging than you’d think! By the time we started our second sequence you could see several people were already getting tired – and we still had another whole sequence to go!
The second and third sequences were more challenging than the first, but Cassie always gave us the option of going back to an easier move if anything became too difficult. By the end of the class everyone was tired, sweaty, probably a little sore, but smiling. On the way out, I chatted with a couple of classmates about what we’d expected going in and how much fun the whole experience was. Maybe if we take the class again we’ll be able to float rocks with our thoughts.
The two key things I took away from the class were:
- You can get a really good, challenging workout with using just your bodyweight. No equipment (or even a gym!) required.
- The most important part of any routine is making it FUN. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it will be hard to stick with it.
Gardening for Body and Mind
By Rebecca Ocampo
Medulla Oblongata, Phlox Subulata, Calamagrostis Acutiflora, Panicum Virgatum – they may sound alike and look alike but are all very different. The medulla oblongata is the lower stalk-like section of the brain. The rest are plants: beautiful creeping phlox and exotic perennial grass. The photograph to the right is Phlox Subulata or creeping phlox. They bloom in the beginning to late spring and are perennials. They are used for garden edges or “fillers” near a stone wall.
There is an old Chinese proverb that goes like this: “If you drink tea, you will be happy for a day. If you roast a pig, you will be happy for a week. If you get married, you will be happy for three weeks. If you garden, you will be happy forever.” My love of gardening peaked recently when I moved to the suburbs and found myself in an apartment surrounded by beautiful and lush forestry. Never did I imagine that gardening would be one of my priorities outside of work. It’s very relaxing and a healthy way to exercise. I’m outdoors and not connected to anything electronic. Most of the time, I do not use my gardening gloves and dig right in the dirt. It’s like making cake batter without utensils, if you will. The texture is soothing to the skin. It may have something to do with childhood, like making mud pies at the beach.
When I was growing up in the Philippines, my family’s ancestral home was surrounded by a variety of fruit trees (banana, avocado, mango and jackfruit) sugar cane, bamboo, and a variety of tropical and exotic flowers including different shades of hibiscus – all surrounding an in-ground (almost Olympic size) swimming pool. Flash forward to the United States where my mom, brother, and I visited several garden centers every Sunday. They would never agree to go to a mall, so it was either another pair of shoes for me or a Panicum Virgatum which is a metallic blue (sounds like shoes to me!) grass that blooms in late summer and grows up to 3’ in height and approximately 18” wide. It has pretty blue blades during the summer and turns to golden and bright yellow blades in the fall.
I mostly grow perennials: orange and red tiger lilies, pink and white English daisies, bright orange poppies, vinca with purple flowers. There are purple irises, red knock-out roses (tough roses that will come back every year no matter the weather) and some annuals like impatiens and pansies as well. The benefit of gardening is twofold. First, it’s a good form of exercise because you rake, mow the lawn, pull weeds, thatch the grass, prune trees, and design your garden so it’s esthetically pleasing. Second, gardening exercises the mind. There is a calmness and peacefulness in gardening. It’s a proven source of good mental health awareness, and releases tension. It means I have escaped confinement from my cubicle. It’s a form of exercise that soothes and calms my mood after a hectic day at the office.
Spotlight: Charlestown HealthCare Center Activity Tracker Pilot
By Rajani Larocca, MD
Charlestown HealthCare Center
with Chrisanne Sikora, Senior Project Specialist
Diabetes Self-Management Education Program
Lifestyle change is ultimately in the hands of the individual, and our job as medical providers is to find a way to empower people to make those changes. It’s an old problem, but the question is: how do we get there? And can new technology help us solve the problem in new and innovative ways?
In spring 2013, I ran a series of six weekly group visits with a group of my patients at MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center. The group was originally intended for those with metabolic syndrome, but the majority of the patients already had Type 2 Diabetes. The idea for this program came from an interest in applying a public health approach to medicine. All of the patients volunteered for the program on my recommendation. The focus of the visits was to educate the participants about healthy lifestyle change, to help motivate them to implement this change, and to provide a support system to help keep them motivated.
Each session focused on a different topic. In addition to the introduction in the first week and a summary group in the last week, we discussed nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, and social connection. A key part of the sessions included removing the all-or-nothing mentality that many people adopt when they are trying to be healthier, focusing instead on taking what steps you can and forgiving mistakes in the past.
During the meeting in which we discussed exercise, everyone who participated was given a FitBit activity tracker to wear. Once the trackers were on, the group went on a short walk through the neighborhood. Many were surprised to learn they didn’t have to walk far to reach 1,000 steps.
In subsequent sessions, reviewing the Fitbit data was part of what we did during our time together. Interestingly, everyone liked the Fitbits – even those who didn’t have ready internet access or who weren’t really internet-savvy. Because the trackers had a display which showed results in real time, everyone could tell whether they were reaching their goals on a daily basis. While there was some friendly competition among participants, most were only competing against themselves, trying to beat their totals from the previous week.
After the program ended, the participants were allowed to keep their FitBits, and some were still wearing them eight months later. Some of those who stopped wearing them said it was because they had incorporated their new habits into their routine and didn’t need the tracker anymore. When asked how he would keep up with his daily walks during the winter, one gentleman responded “I’ll wear a coat!”
Electronic trackers like the FitBit make developing healthy lifestyle habits more fun, but we can’t underestimate what the social connection of the group did to foster people’s success. The participants really enjoyed the group setting, especially the sense of community that developed and the confidence they gained from learning that others face many of the same challenges. Living with a chronic disease can be isolating, but in this group, people realized that they were not alone.
Focus on Functional (Fitness)
Like many people, we’ve spent a lot of time exercising indoors at the gym this winter (thank you, polar vortex). Something we’ve been hearing a lot about from fitness instructors is incorporating “functional fitness” elements into our routine. Functional fitness exercises use movements that mimic everyday activities to increase strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility (range of motion). This type of training makes performing day-to-day activities like carrying groceries easier, while at the same time reducing the risk of injury.
The key element is using multiple muscle groups together (as opposed to traditional weight machines which work one muscle group at a time in isolation). In essence, functional fitness trains the body to work with itself. Bodyweight exercises like pushups, squats and lunges are great examples. Without a machine for support, the muscles of the core (think back and abs) play a crucial role in maintaining balance and proper form. Functional fitness isn’t limited to bodyweight exercises, either. Free weights, kettlebells, resistance bands and balance boards are all useful tools.
Exercises that use more than one muscle group not only help strengthen the core and improve balance, they’re often less time consuming. Plus since there aren’t any big machines necessary, many can be done at home. If you have access to a gym, see if there’s a trainer who uses a functional training approach to help you get you started. And always, check with your healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program.
(Content reviewed by the Clubs at Charles River Park)